Leaders of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes have released two draft agreements to manage the region’s water supply. The proposals’ aim is to block any attempt to divert water from the lakes to drier parts of the world. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:
Leaders of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes have released a draft agreement to
manage the region’s water supply. The proposal’s aim is to block any attempt to divert water
from the lakes to drier parts of the world. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett
There’s no immediate threat by outside interests to ship or pump large amounts of Great Lakes
water to the arid Southwest, or to any other part of the world that needs freshwater. And the
draft agreements aim to keep it that way.
There are two documents up for consideration by the public and policy makers. One would be a
binding compact between the states. The other would be a voluntary agreement between the
states and provinces.
Ohio Governor Bob Taft co-chairs the Council of Great Lakes Governors – which released the
“The whole effort is premised out of our concern that we have a legally enforceable framework,
and a clear standard.”
There’s already a federal law on the books that allows any one Great Lakes governor to veto a
diversion of water from the lakes. But there are concerns about challenges under the U.S.
Constitution, or free trade agreements.
The Great Lakes Charter Annex would require the approval of all eight states for any proposal to
divert more than a million gallons a day out of the basin. Even if a diversion is approved, there’s
a catch: whatever’s taken out of the basin would have to be returned once it’s used.
Noah Hall of the National Wildlife Federation says the practical effect of those requirements
would be a guarantee that the lakes don’t get pilfered by drier parts of the U.S….
“…Where they have growing populations and dwindling supplies of water, and they’ve been
looking at using the Great Lakes to meet their water needs for some time. I think they’ll
obviously see this agreement for what it is, which is a pretty large barrier – perhaps an
insurmountable barrier – to accessing Great Lakes water down the road.”
The agreement would also allow any three states to block withdrawals from within the basin of
more than five million gallons a day. Existing users would be grandfathered in, so only the most
mammoth project would likely come up for consideration – a new power plant, for example.
Hall says that means at most one project a year that would come up for review.
“But what it guards against is the threat of the absolute largest diversions. The massive
withdrawals. The ones that could by themselves harm or impact the Great Lakes, and lower lake
Eventually, states would be required to put rules in place for managing smaller withdrawals
within the basin. Even under a best-case scenario, that wouldn’t happen for at least a dozen
years. But Ohio Governor Taft says the end result will be preservation of the lakes for future
“We have a responsibility as stewards of this precious resource – 20 percent of the world’s fresh
water supply – to protect and preserve it for the benefit of the people within the region, and that
is what the draft agreement is intended to accomplish.”
The plan is up for public review over the next three months. Each Great Lakes state would have
to sign off on the interstate compact. It would also require the approval of Congress. And the
fast-growing arid southwest has more representation in Congress every term.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.