Great Lakes governors sign compact to ban lake water diversion

By GRETCHEN EHLKE, Associated Press Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Representatives of eight states and two Canadian provinces formally approved an agreement Tuesday that would prevent outsiders such as the booming cities of the Southwest from raiding Great Lakes water.

The pact, reached last month after four years of talks, also seeks to encourage conservation of water by the states and Canadian provinces around the Great Lakes. It allows lake water to be transferred only to communities within the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin.

"The lakes represent a fresh water ecosystem that's unique on our planet, supporting thousands of species, including human beings. These agreements will protect our Great Lakes from the threats of diversions outside this basin," said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, the incoming chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

The pact was motivated largely by fears that states in the booming but arid Southwest will try tapping into the lakes, which hold 90 percent of the nation's fresh surface water, as their populations and political clout grow.

The agreements allow for limited exceptions to diverting water outside the basin, such as supplying water for public purposes in communities near the basin. Those straddling communities or counties would be required to return treated water to the lakes after use.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said strong protection of the lakes is required as water shortages throughout the country and the world continue to become more severe.

Molly Flanagan, Great Lakes water resources advocate for the National Wildlife Federation, said available fresh water will become the "new oil" as more states and countries begin looking for the resource.

"Look at statistics from the United Nations and you'll see clean water is increasingly scarce throughout the world," Flanagan said.

The agreement requires the approval of legislatures in all eight states before Congress could consider making it law.

The governors and premiers considered potential legal challenges to the ban on water diversion when formulating the compacts over the last four years.

"It's important that the agreement ... does go to Congress for approval," said David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. "In so approving it, they would be indicating that they did not regard that it would be violating the commerce laws of the Constitution by such regulation."

On Monday, a partnership of federal, state and local officials proposed a 15-year, $20 billion plan for cleaning up the Great Lakes. The plan makes numerous recommendations on how to fix the lakes' most pressing problems, including the proliferation of invasive species, the deterioration of animal habitats, toxic hot spots blamed on pollution and tainted wetlands and tributaries.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)