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Published: Friday, 11/18/2005

Great Lakes summit set for Dec. 13

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Great Lakes region's eight governors and two Canadian premiers have chosen Dec. 13 as their day to consider signing a pair of documents intended to block any future attempts to pipe Great Lakes water across North America or export it in tankers to other parts of the world.

The summit, to take place at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, would be the first of its kind since Great Lakes governors and premiers met in Niagara Falls, N.Y., in June, 2001, to begin negotiating a regional water compact called Annex 2001.

The annex is a proposed update of a 1985 charter signed by the governors but not the premiers. Further details of the Dec. 13 event are to be released today at the fifth annual water conference at the University of Toledo's college of law.

Dick Bartz, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' water division, confirmed yesterday that invitations had just gone out. He said a regional advisory body to which he belongs, called the Water Management Working Group, settled on a workable compromise Nov. 11.

That working group was formed by the Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors in 2001 to write the proposed annex.

"The hope is they'll sign it," said David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

Environmental groups said they were pleased by the compromise version.

The Great Lakes are a national treasure. Diverting them or allowing portions of them to be exported by tanker "would be like selling parts of the Grand Canyon," said Kristy Meyer, of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Manufacturers and other large users of water, including agriculture, had a voice in the negotiations. So did officials addressing emerging issues, such as bottled groundwater in Michigan.

"The environmental community didn't get everything they wanted, but it's definitely an improvement," said Cheryl Mendoza, of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The framework for the proposed Annex 2001 accord began when the Council of Great Lakes Governors named Gov. Bob Taft its chairman at the Niagara Falls summit four years ago.

Mr. Taft, in turn, named Ohio DNR Sam Speck as his point man on the issue. Both were at Mr. Taft's cabinet retreat yesterday and unavailable for comment.

Molly Flanagan, of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, said her group is pleased by Mr. Taft's leadership on this issue.

Mr. Taft and New York Gov. Pataki are the only two governors from the 2001 summit who are still in office. Both provinces also have new premiers.

"Governor Taft's leadership has been critical to getting us to this point," Mr. Naftzger said. "Governor Taft has kept everyone focused on this issue."

Though diverting Great Lakes water to the parched Southwest or other parts of the country seems unfeasible because of the billions of dollars it would cost, various proposals have arisen since 1959. Plus, the lakes are expected to become more coveted this century if predictions hold true that the Earth's population will continue to expand, its average temperatures e will continue to rise, and its supplies of fresh water will become more scarce or polluted.

Governors signed the 1985 charter after seeing billions of federal dollars going to the booming West for various projects after former California Gov. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.

Only three years earlier, the $8 billion Trans Alaska Pipeline System had been completed - to some, an example of the extent to which the government was willing to go to move natural resources.

In 1998, a Canadian firm called the Nova Group secured a permit from Ontario to export 156 million gallons of Lake Superior water a year to Asia. The company relinquished the permit following an outcry. But governors were advised that their 1985 charter wouldn't hold up in court in light of changes that had occurred in international law under the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

So negotiations began on an update to the 1985 charter.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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