December 13, 2005

Great Lakes water pact signed

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. and Canadian governors signed a
pact on Tuesday blocking exports of water from the Great Lakes
and calling for efforts to preserve the world's largest body of
fresh water, officials said.

The pact reached by eight U.S. states and two Canadian
provinces 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

"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 George W. Bush
presented its final plan to clean up the Great Lakes -- a
multibillion-dollar strategy for which funding is in doubt.