Great Lakes States OK Water Compact
By The Associated Press
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – A compact designed to prevent remote regions or countries from tapping into the Great Lakes was approved Wednesday by the last of the eight states that partly surround one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation approving the compact during a ceremony at Oval Beach in the Lake Michigan town of Saugatuck. A day earlier, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced he had signed a ratification bill.
“This is a defining moment in Michigan history,” Granholm said. “We must do our part to ensure that our Great Lakes are protected and preserved for generations to come. This legislation fulfills that promise.”
The pact still needs approval of Congress and the White House. The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec have adopted a nearly identical document but cannot join the compact because U.S. states cannot make treaties with foreign governments.
Measures to ratify the deal in Congress will be introduced shortly, said David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.
More than 20 members have endorsed it, including Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, the presumptive presidential nominees. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, said he would be a co-sponsor.
“I am committed to working to fully implement this compact to protect America’s truly Great Lakes,” Obama said.
Carl Levin, D-Mich., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, will be the primary Senate sponsors. In the House, support will be led by Rep. James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Supporters hope the pact will be approved this fall and sent to President Bush, whose administration has voiced no opposition.
The agreement outlaws diversions of Great Lakes water from its natural drainage basin with rare exceptions, while requiring the states to regulate their own large-scale water uses and promote conservation.
Granholm also signed bills to manage Michigan’s use of surface and ground water. They authorize an interactive computer system to help businesses determine when and where they can make withdrawals that will not damage the environment.
“This historic legislation will help preserve our waters but keep them available for recreational, agricultural and business purposes,” said state Sen. Patricia Birkholz, chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.
The Council of Great Lakes Governors spent four years negotiating the deal amid rising concern that the worldwide shortage of fresh water would lead thirsty regions to target the lakes.
“It is gratifying to see our region uniting as never before to protect the Great Lakes,” said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, chairman of the council.
The compact hit a number of snags during negotiations by the governors, who approved it in 2005, and while being considered by the eight state legislatures. But in the end, it drew support from a broad spectrum of interests, including business and environmental groups.
“There were times when I thought this day would never come,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “This is a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime achievement.”
Mike Johnson, regulatory affairs director for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said the agreement ensures that “farmers, businesses and manufacturers can now access the water they need while following clear standards” to protect water resources.
But some remained dissatisfied. Clean Water Action, an activist group, said the Michigan bills omitted provisions needed to prevent corporate interests from turning public water into a private commodity.
Birkholz said the Michigan Constitution and existing law adequately protect the public interest.
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