U.S. Water News Online
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Bottled water from the Great Lakes
basin could be shipped elsewhere for sale unless prohibited by state
law under a compromise water protection blueprint crafted by an
industry coalition and an environmentalist group.
The National Wildlife Federation and the Council of Great Lakes
Industries included the provision in a package of suggested changes
to a water use agreement that the region's eight U.S. states and two
Canadian provinces have been haggling over since 2001.
With a December deadline approaching, state and provincial
officials asked the two groups -- representing interests often
sharply at odds -- to seek common ground on issues that have been
holding up a settlement.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the compromise worked out
by the industry council and the wildlife federation. They submitted
it to the government negotiating team, which is holding its final
scheduled round of face-to-face talks this week in Chicago.
"We don't know how the negotiators will receive the compromise
that we worked out," Andy Buchsbaum, director of the federation's
Great Lakes office, said. "They may accept it, may reject it, may
The plan drew a mixed reaction from other environmentalist
leaders. Some were particularly unhappy about the bottled water
provision, which they believe could set legal precedents that could
open the door to large-scale bulk water diversions.
"Once you punch a hole in the Great Lakes basin to allow diversion
of some water, it gets bigger over time," said Jim Olson, an
environmental attorney in Traverse City who represents a citizens
group fighting the Ice Mountain Spring Water bottling plant in
Mecosta County. "It will be difficult for the state to ever plug it."
Buchsbaum acknowledged the bottled water provision "was something
we did not prevail on" in negotiations with the industry council,
which represents about two dozen companies including Consumers Energy
and Dow Chemical Co.
"We need more protections against bottled water exports," he said.
"That said, it's not the biggest threat to the Great Lakes. Massive,
large-scale diversions through pipelines and canals are a much bigger
threat." So are some industrial uses of water within the basin, he
The industry council also made concessions, including stronger
requirements for state water conservation programs, Buchsbaum said.
The Council of Great Lakes Governors agreed four years ago to
develop a plan for shielding the waters from diversion to arid
locations and encouraging conservation within the region. The
negotiating team is working on a binding compact between the eight
states and a separate agreement that would include Ontario and
Quebec, known together as Annex 2001.
The council released a draft of both documents last year and a
revised version in June. It has a December deadline for agreeing on a
final plan to present to the governors, who would forward it to their
legislatures for consideration.
Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
and chairman of the negotiating team, said the proposals from the
wildlife federation and industry council were among many offered by
groups that have given advice over the years.
The fact that one group of business and environmentalist leaders
could bridge their differences "bodes well for building consensus"
among others whose support will be needed to put the Annex agreements
into law, Speck said.
But if the bottled water provision is any indication, it's far
from certain that environmental and conservation groups will unite
behind the compromise.
Many environmentalists contend bottled water shipped outside the
basin should be classified as a "diversion," which the compact would
disallow in most cases, although exceptions would be made for
communities and counties that straddle the basin boundary.
"We don't make distinctions between whether water is diverted in a
tanker, in a pipe or in a bottle," said Mike Shriberg, director of
the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan.
Nestle Waters North America Inc., parent company of the Mecosta
County bottling operation, insists bottled water is a food product
like soft drinks and should be regulated no differently.
"The common understanding of a diversion is a pipeline or canal
carrying bulk water to other places for various uses, including
manufacturing," spokeswoman Deborah Muchmore said. "Bottled water is
not used in that way. It's simply a beverage."
Under the proposal by the wildlife federation and industry
council, bottled water would be classified as a "product," not a
diversion. But the states and provinces could impose strict
regulations on bottled water and even prohibit out-of-basin exports.
The plan would allow the moratorium on new or expanded bottled
water exports that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm imposed in May,
according to a memo distributed by the wildlife foundation.
But Olson wasn't convinced.
"The state should not sign such an agreement because it would
privatize a public resource," he said.
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