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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2008

US lawmakers hope to approve Great Lakes compact

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON A compact to prevent the diversion of water from the Great Lakes has widespread support in Congress and a strong chance of winning approval by the end of the year, lawmakers said Wednesday.

House and Senate leaders from the region said they had not detected any significant opposition to the plan and would aggressively push to complete the process this year to provide more protections for one of the world's largest sources of fresh water.

"It will be done by the end of this session, I assure you," said Rep. James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who is leading efforts in the House.

Senate leaders, however, were more cautious, noting their chamber can be unpredictable because rules allow individual members to block legislation from moving forward. Election year politics also can add complications.

"I cannot tell you with confidence that it will pass this year but I will tell you with confidence that it will pass," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. His Republican colleague, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, said he was hopeful it would pass before the end of the year.

The agreement prevents remote states or countries from tapping into the lakes from their natural drainage basin with rare exceptions. It also requires the states to regulate their own large-scale water uses and promote conservation.

States in the region have sought the pact amid concerns that the worldwide freshwater shortage would lead thirsty regions to tap into the lakes.

"The Great Lakes define our economy, our recreation and in many ways, our way of life," said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

The states have worked for several years to bring the protections to Congress for consideration. Governors in the region negotiated the plan for more than four years before reaching an agreement in December 2005. Michigan was the last of the eight states to approve the pact earlier this month.

The White House has not voiced any opposition to the agreement, and both major presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have said they support the compact.

In a statement, Obama said, "We must do everything we can to protect the lakes and preserve their water supply for future generations of Americans."

The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec have adopted a nearly identical document, but cannot join the compact because U.S. states are barred from making treaties with foreign governments.

Lawmakers noted that these interstate water compacts are very common. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia currently belong to at least one interstate water compact, and many states belong to more than one.

"It is the overwhelming will of the states in the Great Lakes basin to manage this national treasure, and this agreement will ensure that the lakes are used sustainably," said Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich.

Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, has said the ban on diversions has a significant loophole: It allows bottled water to be shipped from the region.

Stupak spokesman Nick Choate said the congressman was reviewing the compact "to see what its implications are for bottled water" but had not made a decision on whether he will support the plan.



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