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Published: Friday, 7/1/2005

Council revises policy on Great Lakes diversion

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Round Two.

A revised set of modern-era proposals to thwart any future Great Lakes diversion or bulk export plans was released yesterday by the Council of Great Lakes Governors, of which Gov. Bob Taft is co-chairman.

The public comment period ends Aug. 29.

Collectively known as Annex 2001, the documents continue to have the same broad goal of establishing regional control of the world's largest source of fresh drinking water.

Great Lakes governors and premiers pledged to do just that when the process began at a summit near the shores of Niagara Falls, N.Y., on June 18, 2001.

But for as simple as regional collaboration sounds, officials have found that the pathway can be cluttered with legal obstacles and contentious lobbying beyond the usual business-environmental clashes when it comes to managing a vital resource such as water.

In November, Canada's House of Commons took the unusual step of thrusting itself into a regional collaborative effort when it issued a committee report that recommended "in the strongest of terms" that the set of proposals under consideration be redone.

So it was back to the drawing board for the gubernatorial council's Water Management Working Group, headed by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sam Speck.

The revised version was issued yesterday. Among its highlights:

●A ban on diversions, with limited exceptions. Those include humanitarian aid, firefighting, and extenuating circumstances for parched counties that abut the natural water basin.

Canadians wanted similar language four years ago, but were told by U.S. officials that an outright ban would be unconstitutional in this country.

●A removal of the largely undefined requirement for ecosystem improvements by those who draw excessive amounts of water.

●More authority at the state and provincial level for decisions affecting water usage within the Great Lakes basin.

●A 90-day average for determining whether water withdrawals should apply to farmers who irrigate their crops and other seasonal operations, such as watering golf courses.

The previous set of proposals allowed for water usage to be monitored over any given 120-day period, a more flexible standard. The latter was endorsed by the Ohio Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups.

Reaction was mixed.

Support was expressed by large environmental groups, such as the Ohio Environmental Council, Great Lakes United, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the National Wildlife Federation.

One of Canada's most vocal opponents, an activist group called the Council of Canadians, said it continues to have reservations.

George Kuper, of the Ann Arbor-based Council of Great Lakes Industries, which represents some of the region's largest manufacturers, said he continues to be troubled by the proposal to regulate new industries that use 100,000 gallons or more of water a day. He said that could make it harder for the region to attract jobs.

Annex 2001 is a proposed update of a 1985 charter that governors signed to hold the line against diversions and withdrawals. A legal team commissioned by the gubernatorial council said an update was needed to keep pace with changes in international law under the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT.

Governors hired the legal team for advice after a small group of Canadian businessmen, known as the Nova Group, secured a permit from Ontario in 1998 to export Lake Superior water to Asia. The permit eventually was relinquished, but officials said the case exposed the region's vulnerability.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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