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Published: Saturday, 10/4/2008

Bush signs Great Lakes pact into law

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

President Bush yesterday followed through on his pledge to sign the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact into law.

The legislation recognizes the eight Great Lakes states as a regional water compact for managing withdrawals from the world's largest source of fresh surface water.

Large-scale diversions or bulk exports of Great Lakes water will be forbidden without approval from a regional water council the states are expected to form.

Proposed by Great Lakes governors at the end of 2005, the compact previously was ratified by each of the states and both chambers of Congress.

A companion agreement in good faith was signed with Ontario and Qubec in 2005. That one was nonbinding because states are forbidden from negotiating treaties with foreign entities.

"Together, we have taken a major step to protect the Great Lakes," Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, the Council of Great Lakes Governors chairman, said of Mr. Bush's decision to sign the compact into law.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Mr. Bush's support "ensures that the Great Lakes will remain a protected national treasure for years to come."

The agreement came a decade after the Ontario-based Nova Group secured a permit in 1998 to ship tankers of Lake Superior water to Asia, then relinquished the document under pressure.

Embarrassed officials claimed it had been issued in error.

But the case exposed the region's vulnerability to challenges for Great Lakes water under changes to international law.

Governors convened in Niagara Falls in June, 2001, to discuss their strategy after paying a legal team $250,000 two years earlier for advice.

The recommendation was to close as many loopholes as possible that remained, even though Congress had granted each governor veto authority over diversions under the Water Resources Development Act of 1986.

The year before that, governors pledged to thwart diversions under the Great Lakes Charter of 1985.

"This is a great day for the Great Lakes," said Cameron Davis, president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes.

"What started as just a ripple in 1998 when the region beat back a Great Lakes water grab has given rise to a cascade of support for these waters both in the region and across the country."

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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