Originally posted by: L.M. Ray on 4/9/2005 9:06:26 AM
NEW: Plugging the drain
Mark Lamb -- Fri, Apr/8/05
BY JOHN MYERS
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Plans to regulate Great Lakes water diversions have been rewritten to strengthen a 2004 proposal, prohibiting water from leaving the region altogether.
A committee representing Canadian officials and the eight Great Lakes governors met this week in Toronto and is close to sealing a deal to prevent any new diversions out of the watershed of any of the Great Lakes, with very limited exceptions.
"It's significantly different than last year's.... It was clear that what we had last year wasn't enough. The premise has changed from a management plan to a prohibition plan," said Kent Lokkesmoe, waters division director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
After reaching accord on the principles of a water-protection plan in 2001 -- the so-called Annex 2001 agreements -- the Council of Great Lakes Governors in July released a blueprint for putting the plan to work as an interstate compact, and as an international agreement with Canadian provinces that border the lakes.
That plan didn't prohibit diversions, but imposed limits on diversions outside the Great Lakes basin. It still allowed projects to pump more than 1 million gallons per day out of the region with certain restrictions.
After several public hearings, including one in Duluth in October, plus months of written input, Great Lakes-area residents submitted more than 10,000 comments. Many were critical, contending the plan wasn't strong enough.
That original draft was doomed when officials from Quebec, Ontario and the Canadian federal government all said it lacked adequate protections. Several Native American tribal leaders from the United States also panned the agreement, saying they hadn't been provided enough input.
That sent representatives of the governors and Canadian authorities back to the negotiating table, where they now appear close to a deal. The agreement will go back to each governor later this month and could be back for public review by May.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources director Sam Speck, who leads the committee re-writing the plan, said most outstanding issues have been resolved.
"What we've come up with now prohibits diversions except for very limited exceptions," he said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "The working group listened to what 10,000 people said. And we heard what the Canadians said. The first draft needed improving."
Officials apparently have dropped earlier concerns that a total ban on new diversions might be overturned, possibly a violation of the Interstate Commerce clause, NAFTA or GATT. Some officials now say that the weight of an interstate compact, if approved by Congress, will stand up.
"As long as we're doing it to protect the resource and not for commercial reasons, it should hold," Speck said. "But that's not to say there won't be challenges."
Even if the premiers and governors agree, however, the plan will be far from finished. To make it a viable interstate compact, all eight state legislatures must approve the deal -- without amendment -- and then it must pass Congress, also without changes. That could be well into 2006, or later, if it happens at all.
Lawmakers "don't like to be told they can't change things. But that's how it has to work," Lokkesmoe said.
To become a truly international agreement, Ontario and Quebec officials also must sign-on.
The plan applies to surface water and groundwater anywhere within the boundaries of a Great Lakes watershed.
Duluth News Tribune-Full Story