Ontario will not sign Annex 2001 without major changes, a stance that could block Gov. Bob Taft's three-year effort to unite area governors and premiers on a common goal of keeping Great Lakes water in this part of North America.
At issue are a number of proposed exemptions that Canadians view as loopholes designed to accommodate urban sprawl and agricultural interests near the shorelines of states such as Ohio and Wisconsin.
While both sides have said they believe Annex 2001 has the potential to help thwart large-scale diversions to the Sun Belt, many Canadians - even some American water-law experts - have wondered what could happen if growing communities just outside the basin continue to be served Great Lakes water.
Permits subject to approval by the states and provinces would not be required for net usage below 5 million gallons a day. Communities within 12 miles of the water basin would be exempt.
Opponents also claim that agricultural lobbying efforts were met by a proposed exemption for diversions of less than 1 million gallons a day over a 120-day average. Few farms are irrigated that length of time in this part of North America.
"Ontario is not prepared to ratify the agreement in its current form," according to a statement issued by David Ramsey, Ontario's minister of natural resources.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sam Speck, who chaired the Annex 2001 advisory committee that helped shape the current proposal, said there was never a strong consensus on the agreement when it was put out for 90 days of public comment on July 19. "The reality was that I don't think any governor or premier was ready to sign off on it at that time, but they wanted to get input," he said. "The input process created some heat in Canada."
Annex 2001 is a proposal to update to a 1985 charter against diversions that governors signed 19 years ago without premiers. The annex was drafted over the past three years to help make the charter consistent with changes in international law.
Officials hoped to finalize the agreement this winter, then have governors and premiers reconvene in the Niagara Falls, N.Y., area to sign it in the spring. The eight Great Lakes governors and two premiers chose Niagara Falls as the site to begin the process on June 18, 2001.
The statement said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty of the Liberal Party, who took office a year ago, would rather rely on Ontario's diversion ban than enter into an agreement that could weaken the province's legal standing.
Canada's constitution allows its provinces to declare bans on diversions and bulk exports of Great Lakes water. America's doesn't. Such bans violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to Dick Bartz, Ohio Department of Natural Resources water chief.
"We have listened to feedback from stakeholders, First Nations, and the general public," Mr. Ramsay said. "Ontario remains committed to its provincial law that bans diversions."
The dichotomy over commerce clauses was one reason the Council of Great Lakes Governors, co-chaired by Mr. Taft, has sought a common policy on diversions.
Another was a 1998 permit that Ontario issued to a Canadian company called the Nova Group. The company wanted to ship Lake Superior water to Asia in tankers. It eventually relinquished the permit under pressure from both American and Canadian officials.
But the case has been cited repeatedly as one that exposed the region's weaknesses in guarding the lakes from other parts of the world.
A legal team hired by the gubernatorial council concluded in 1999 that water could be viewed as a tradable commodity, like oil and timber, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT.
But several people have questioned how much, if any, additional protection comes from the proposed annex to the 1985 charter. Congress gave Great Lakes governors veto authority for new diversions in 1986 under the Water Resources Development Act.
David de Launay, Ontario's assistant deputy natural resources minister, said Canada has vast supplies of water, whereas the U.S. has an extreme demand for it in some areas and a disproportionate allocation of it.
"This is an underlying point of tension," Mr. de Launay said at last week's annual water conference at the University of Toledo.
Nevada, for example, is one of the fastest-growing states, but it is running short of water.
"It's not very long before you've got a million [Nevada newcomers] looking for water," he said.
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