Commentary – Keeping Lakes Great

  • For more information on water withdrawals, visit the Lake Michigan Federation's web site at

National and even global demand for drinking water is surging to thepoint where proposals to withdraw waters from the Great Lakes mayincrease drastically. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentatorCameron Davis tells us, we may need to risk some withdrawals so that theGreat Lakes may stay great:


National and even global demand for drinking water is surging to the point where
proposals to withdraw waters from the Great Lakes may increase drastically. But as
commentator Cameron Davis of the Lake Michigan Federation tells us, we may need to risk
some withdrawals so that the Great Lakes may stay great.

Let’s put one and one together. First, in the next 25 years, at least 55 percent more fresh water
than is now available will be needed to satisfy the growing global population. But other
countries aren’t the only ones that are thirsty. Los Angeles is now moving toward privatizing
public drinking water because demand is fast outpacing supply.

Here’s the second part of the equation. The Great Lakes contain nearly 20 percent of the Earth’s
fresh surface water. Despite the pollution problems that affect fish consumption and other
aspects of human health, Great Lakes water is exceptionally clean for drinking.

Add these up. It’s not outrageous to think that our precious Great Lakes could be tapped. In
fact, it’s already happening. In 1998 a Canadian firm received approval from Ontario to ship
millions of gallons of Lake Superior water to Asia though the permit was later cancelled. As I’m
speaking to you, Green Bay suburbs are looking to Lake Michigan for water because their own
groundwater supplies are drying up in the face of continued outward sprawl. In another case,
Perrier is now seeking to build a number of water pumping plants in the Lake Michigan Basin.
These are just a few examples of how Great Lakes water is being targeted.

Unfortunately, we may not be able to protect the Great Lakes by “just saying no” to future
projects like we’ve been doing. Under international trade laws and our own U.S. Constitution,
we can’t arbitrarily restrict the flow of goods—water included—from one state or country to
another. To withstand legal challenges under these laws we need objective decision making
standards that don’t differentiate between proposals coming from inside the Great Lakes, the
Southwestern U.S., or overseas for that matter. If we get going now, we can make those
standards tough. The irony of it is that if we have such standards—even if they risk some water
being removed—we can protect the integrity of the Great Lakes as a whole.

Commendably, the Great Lakes governors have proposed a set of standards that take a
significant step toward this goal. They have some shortcomings—for example, they can allow
lots of little withdrawals, which could add up to a big drain on the ecosystem. With some
improvement, however, the standards can result in real protections for the Great Lakes and the
people who love them. The governors are accepting public comments until February 28.

So, the next time you stand on the shores of your favorite Great Lake, remember this as you look
across the expanse: less than one percent of Great Lakes water is renewable. Let’s get ahead of
the wave in protecting them while we still can.