U.S., Canadian Officials Sign Great Lakes Water Pact
CHICAGO The leaders of eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces signed a pact Tuesday blocking exports of water from the Great Lakes and calling for efforts to preserve the world's largest body of fresh water.
The pact reached by the governors and the premiers of Quebec and Ontario that border the five Great Lakes introduced strict standards for water usage, sinking tentative proposals to ship water to thirsty regions such as the U.S. Southwest or Middle East.
"It's the first time we've seen all eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian provinces agree on standards," said Cameron Davis of the environmental group Alliance for the Great Lakes. "This region has been a profligate water waster, and we now have a set of standards on the books that helps get ourselves on the same page on how to conserve this resource."
To come into effect, the pact must be approved by the legislatures of each Great Lakes state -- Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota -- and the U.S. Congress. Similarly, signatories from Quebec and Ontario need legislative approval. All are expected to do so.
"The new agreements will improve and protect the health and economic vitality of the Great Lakes region and allow future generations to share the same benefits," said Ohio's Republican Gov. Bob Taft, head of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.
The agreement, announced in Milwaukee, includes strict rules that will make it difficult for additional communities on the edges of the Great Lakes watershed to use its water. Previously, governors could arbitrarily decide to include or exclude communities seeking water from the lakes.
The pact also aims to prohibit commercial exports of lake water -- restricting withdrawals to 5-gallon (20-liter) receptacles. The allowance was a bow to regional brewers and other interests needing limited amounts of water, Davis said.
Existing lake water users outside the watershed, such as several Chicago suburbs, were allowed to maintain their supply. But new users must meet requirements that they return treated effluent back to the lakes, minus whatever is consumed.
The city of Chicago, a consumer of hundreds of billions of gallons of Lake Michigan water annually, is governed by a separate consent decree in effect since the flow of the Chicago River was reversed in 1900 to drain from the lake via locks.
More than 35 million people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water and the lakes are able to replace only 1 percent of their contents annually. The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water -- only the polar ice caps and Lake Baikal in Siberia contain more.
On Monday, a task force created by President Bush presented its final plan to clean up the Great Lakes -- a multibillion-dollar strategy for which funding is in doubt.