U.S. Water News Online
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- After four years of talks,
negotiators have reached a deal aimed at preventing outsiders from
raiding Great Lakes water and encouraging more efficient use of the
coveted resource within the region.
"There were many difficult issues that required compromise, but a
consensus has been reached,'' said David Naftzger, executive director
of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.
The agreement was motivated largely by fears that states in the
booming -- and arid -- Southwest will try tapping into the lakes,
which hold 90 percent of the nation's fresh surface water, as their
populations and political clout grow.
Governors and premiers of the eight states and two Canadian
provinces adjoining the lakes agreed in 2001 to develop a legal
framework for keeping their waters inside the drainage basin.
Staffers have been working on details ever since.
The final version has been submitted to the governors and
premiers, who are expected to sign it during a meeting Dec. 13 in
Milwaukee. State legislatures and Congress will be asked to approve a
binding compact carrying out the accord.
Because the states cannot make treaties with foreign governments,
they signed a separate, nonbinding agreement with the provinces,
which are expected to implement the compact's provisions on their
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the agreement, which would
outlaw most new or increased diversions of water -- including
groundwater, inland lakes and rivers as well as the Great Lakes --
from the basin.
Exceptions could be made for communities and counties straddling
the basin's boundary if they cannot meet their needs from other
sources or through conservation. Such diversions could be only for
public water supplies, and excess water would have to be returned to
Any of the states could veto a diversion to a straddling county.
Regulation of water use within the basin would be left up to each
state and province, in keeping with standards designed to protect the
ecosystem. They would be required to adopt conservation programs.
They also would set their own policies on bottling water from the
Great Lakes region, a particularly contentious issue.
Many environmentalists say bottling water and selling it outside
the basin is no less a diversion than shipping it away in tankers or
through pipes. It sets a precedent for treating water as an economic
commodity that could be privatized instead of a public resource
available to all, they say.
Bottlers contend their water is no different that soft drinks,
beer or any other food product containing water and shouldn't be
regulated as a diversion.
The proposed agreement describes the basin's waters as "precious
public natural resources shared and held in trust'' by the region's
Gov. Jennifer Granholm imposed a moratorium in May on new or
expanded bottled water operations in Michigan until the Legislature
enacts a water withdrawal law.
That followed the state's issuance of a permit for Nestle Waters
North America Inc. to buy water from the city of Evart for bottling
at a plant in Mecosta County. The permit required that the water be
sold only within the Great Lakes basin, prompting a lawsuit from the
Ontario's natural resources minister, David Ramsay, said he would
discuss the Great Lakes agreement with representatives of Canadian
industry, municipalities and environmental groups.
"Once we get their input then we'll make a final decision whether
Ontario is going to sign on or not,'' Ramsey told Canadian Press.
Representatives of two environmental groups praised the agreement
although they didn't get everything they wanted.
By ratifying it, the region will be "putting our own house in
order and protecting the waters from diversions and misuse,'' said
Molly Flanagan of the National Wildlife Foundation.
"It's better than the status quo, which means it's better for the
Great Lakes,'' said Cheryl Mendoza of the Alliance for the Great
George Kuper, president of the Council of Great Lakes Industries,
said the latest version of the agreement looked better than previous
ones. But he said his group needed to study the fine print before
deciding whether to endorse it.
"It focuses appropriately on diversions. It seems to leave the
sovereignty of the states intact so they're responsible for managing
in-basin use and conservation,'' Kuper said. "I think there's a lot
of common sense there.''
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