Great Lakes deal will ban water diversions
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Tuesday, 13 December 2005 11:48

The premiers of Quebec and Ontario, along with leaders of eight U.S. states, are set to sign an agreement today that will ban large-scale water diversions from the Great Lakes basin.

The agreements, to be signed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will also try to solve the lake's most pressing problems, including the deterioration of animal habitats, toxic hot spots blamed on pollution and tainted wetlands.

An estimated 45 million people, including 10 million Canadians, live in the Great Lakes basin.

The five lakes contain 20 per cent of the world's fresh surface water and are a source of drinking water for at least 30 million people.

The deal is particularly important for Ontario, which is the largest water user on the lakes. At least half of Ontario's population depends on the lakes for drinking water.

New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota are the U.S. states set to sign the pact. Each of their legislatures will have to approve the agreement, as will the U.S. Congress.

Quebec is involved because the Great Lakes are the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River.

The signing of the new plan comes amid growing concern about large-scale diversion of water from the Great Lakes to parched southwestern U.S. states.

"It's certainly going to send a strong message that [southwestern states] have to find other solutions" for their water needs, Sarah Miller, a water expert at the Canadian Environmental Law Association told The Globe and Mail. "I think it will really act as a deterrent for many of those proposals."

The plan is the result of more than a year of work. Among the partnership's recommendations are restoring wetlands and other crucial habitat, and upgrading municipal sewers to stop the overflow of raw sewage into the lakes.

The partnership also called for new federal laws to prevent invasive species from entering the lakes, and reducing discharge of mercury, PCBs, dioxin, pesticides and other toxins into the lakes.

Environmental groups warned that the work needed to support the plan and to save the health of the lakes will take a commitment of $300 million in the fiscal 2007 federal budget.

"It's a system that is in balance," Adele Hurley, a senior fellow at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, told The Globe.

"We're supposed to live within that system. It's not supposed to continue to try to accommodate us to the point of exhaustion."

The signing will come at a gathering of the Great Lakes Governors' Leadership Summit.

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