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Published: Monday, 10/18/2004

Canada skeptical of U.S. motives

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lake Erie, including the shoreline at Luna Pier, provides recreational opportunities as well as a water supply for the area. Lake Erie, including the shoreline at Luna Pier, provides recreational opportunities as well as a water supply for the area.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADED Enlarge

A proposal touted as the most ambitious effort yet to prevent large-scale diversions and bulk exports of Great Lakes water has drawn the ire of some Canadian environmental activists and academic researchers.

They question the motives of the Great Lakes governors who crafted Annex 2001. Some have accused the governors of using the document to guard against threats to divert water to the Sun Belt that might arise later this century. The activists and researchers also believe that the governors may be using the proposal to hoard water for their own states experiencing sprawl in near-basin areas.

"This is nothing more than a U.S. scheme to drain our Great Lakes dry," said Sara Ehrhardt of the proposed regional compact that has been in the making for five years. The Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors, co-chaired by Gov. Bob Taft, is taking public comments on it through today.

Those who have been closely involved in drafting Annex 2001, including Dick Bartz of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, defend it as a set of documents that would give the region long-overdue legal protection. Mr. Bartz is the Ohio DNR's water division chief.

Ms. Ehrhardt is national water campaigner of the Council of Canadians, a government watchdog coalition of 70 chapters.

She questioned if Ontario and Quebec's premiers are being suckered into a foolhardy agreement with Great Lakes governors While the tenor of her remarks isn't necessarily pervasive throughout Canada, officials concede there's a general feeling of skepticism.

"This is absolutely why we had the public comment period," said David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. Papers presented by the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies have questioned whether Annex 2001 can meet its stated objective.

Ralph Pentland, an Ottawa water consultant who served on international panels, said in a paper for the Wilson Center that the annex is a "very high-risk strategy" in its present form and allows far too much "wiggle room" in return-flow provisions.

In a joint letter published Sept. 16 by a Michigan newspaper, Adele Hurley and Andrew Nikiforuk described Annex 2001 as "little more than a complex water-taking permit program."

Ms. Hurley is director of the Munk Centre's water-issues program. Mr. Nikiforuk is author of a book about Great Lakes diversion threats.

Weeks after the public hearing process began in mid-July, environmental activist Maureen Reilley of Toronto told The Blade that many Americans might be surprised to learn how sensitive Canada is about three of its most abundant resources: water, natural gas, and forestry products.

"Yes. Yes. Can I say that again? Yes," she answered, when asked if suspicion about U.S. motives permeates the Canadian mainstream. "Americans lose at the world trade courts and come at us again. They want what they want, and they don't play fair. We're a little dog living next to a big dog."

Yet the skepticism is hardly unanimous when it comes to Annex 2001, even within the ranks of fellow environmental activists.

One high-profile Canadian watchdog group, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, supports Annex 2001. So does Great Lakes United, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian groups founded in 1982 in response to diversion fears expressed by governors of that era.

Mr. Naftzger acknowledged that Canada's public hearing for Annex 2001, held in late September in Toronto, had a decidedly different feel than the U.S. public hearing held earlier that month in Chicago.

"That's something we constantly need to be reminded about: our differences in political culture. Yes, all of us want to protect the Great Lakes. But we also come at this from a very different history and a very different political climate," he said.

For years, Great Lakes residents have spoken largely in favor of regional efforts to fend off states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and others perceived as outsiders.

In 1985 the region's governors sensed so much anxiety they formed a nonbinding agreement to oppose large-scale diversions, an effort followed in 1986 by congressional passage of the federal Water Resources Development Act. The latter gives any single Great Lakes governor veto authority on the U.S. side. That veto power was exercised in 1991 for a proposal that involved Lowell, Ind. But diversions for Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and Akron - the most recent - have gone through since 1986.

The move toward Annex 2001 began in 1999, when a legal team retained by the Council of Great Lakes Governors said existing laws wouldn't hold up in court. The question arose after a company in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., called the Nova Group, secured a permit in 1998 from an Ontario office to ship millions of gallons of Lake Superior water to Asia. The permit was eventually nullified.

In June of 2001, governors met with Canada's two Great Lakes premiers in Niagara Falls, N.Y., to agree on a process for approving a regional compact called Annex 2001.

Part of the frustration in dealing with Canada has been getting people there to understand the legal differences between commerce clauses of each nation. In Canada, an outright ban on diversions is legal. In the United States, they're not because the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 declared water to be an article of commerce. "We don't feel comfortable that a recommendation for a ban on diversions would be durable in the courts," Mr. Bartz said.

Some water experts in the United States aren't convinced Annex 2001 is a step in the right direction. Jim Olson, a Traverse City, Mich., attorney who helped a West Michigan citizens group prevail in a high-profile groundwater dispute involving Nestle's Ice Mountain bottled water operation, said Annex 2001 "should not be adopted in its present form because it is too weak" and may actually make the region more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Activists such as those with the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor and the Ohio Environmental Council in Columbus want the process to move forward.

"The concern is founded that some near-basin diversions could occur, but they are occurring now," Molly Flanagan, Lake Erie programs director for the Ohio Environmental Council, said. "There are areas we'd like to see improved, but overall, we're supportive of the compact."

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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