New hearings possible on use of Great Lakes water
Written by Toledo Blade   
Monday, 17 January 2005 09:45

The Canadian government's cool reaction to a U.S.-led plan for curbing Great Lakes diversions and bulk withdrawals could reopen public hearings on the debate this summer.

At stake is how the United States and Canada view their relationship with each other in regard to the freshwater lakes as North America is expected to face its greatest water crisis this century. The lakes hold 20 percent of the Earth's fresh surface water.

While much attention has focused on the potential for water exports to southern California, Arizona, and other parched Sunbelt states, many officials view the growing needs of near-shoreline communities in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin as a more immediate threat.

Suburban Milwaukee and other parts of southeastern Wisconsin lie just outside the water basin and are running particularly low on drinkable groundwater. To a lesser degree, so are parts of northern Ohio, including western Lucas County.

Canadian officials, some of whom have admitted being skeptical of U.S. motives, view the plan, called Annex 2001, as being too weak.

The annex is a proposed set of amendments to a 1985 charter among governors, written to close legal loopholes created by changes in international law. Gov. Bob Taft, co-chairman of the Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors, put Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sam Speck in charge of drafting it in June, 2001. One of Mr. Speck's advisers, Ohio DNR water chief Dick Bartz, has had a key role in the process. Ontario and Quebec premiers have had representation, something which they were not afforded by Great Lakes governors in 1985.

In comments recently submitted on behalf of its federal government, the Canadian Consulate General told the gubernatorial council the proposed agreements "are too permissive," in part because there is no ceiling for withdrawals by permitted users.

"Stronger agreements and greater precision are required to afford the highest possible level of protection," the statement said.

The consulate's office ques-

tioned why anticipated effects of global warming were not taken into account. "The proposed agreements are silent on climate change," it said.

The consulate general's comments are similar to those issued in a Nov. 26 report by the Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in Canada's House of Commons. That report, written in the wake of unexpected parliamentary hearings, said the committee "recommends in the strongest of terms" that Annex 2001 be redone because it is not strong enough.

David Naftzger, the gubernatorial council's executive director, told The Blade that negotiations are ongoing and that substantial changes are expected.

"The goal is to have more finalized agreements this summer," he said. "We anticipate there will be opportunities for the public to review and comment on more finalized agreements."

The set of documents generated more than 10,000 comments during a 90-day period that ended in October. Several activists objected to the timing, citing how that comment period was held during the heat of President Bush's successful re-election campaign and that of his opponent, U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.).

Mr. Naftzger said it was not certain yet whether a new 90-day comment period would be scheduled or whether a different type of format would be used to collect opinions.

Mr. Bartz said the tenor of the debate is causing officials involved with the annex to pause and reflect upon the direction that it's going.

"We are still optimistic we will get something signed," he said, adding that mid-July is now seen as the probable time.

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