Events

Decision Time: Water Diversion Policy in the Great Lakes Basin

September 14, 2004 // 10:00am12:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Environmental Change and Security Program
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This event launched the first publication in the Canada Institute's One Issue, Two Voices series. The two authors were in Washington to discuss the papers they submitted for this publication. The event was linked by videoconference to Ann Arbor, Michigan and Toronto, Ontario and was webcast live on the Wilson Center's website. The purpose of both the publication and event was to increase discussion of Annex 2001, an agreement to set a common standard between states and provinces for water diversion from the Great Lakes. A 90-day public comment period on Annex 2001 was launched on July 19 and will conclude on October 18.

Jim Olson began the discussion by expressing his severe concern with the short time period available for comment. He believes that there has not been enough involvement by the public. Olson explained that waters of the Great Lakes basin is a public resource or commons and as such must be shared by the residents of the basin. According to Olson, a review of the fine print of Annex 2001 shows an alarming betrayal of the public trust in the water commons; this most basic standard, that guides decisions over Great Lakes basin waters, has been omitted from the Agreements. As well, the Boundary Water Treaty of 1909 that forbids diversions of these waters by either the United States or Canada, where the integrity of the waters would be affected, is ignored. The Agreements say they will protect, conserve, restore, and improve the Great Lakes, but they mingle standards to prevent harm from abuses by residents and businesses within the Basin with those ancient watermarks that prohibit diversion of the waters used and enjoyed in common beyond the Basin.

Ralph Pentland proposed two arguments with Annex 2001, first if is adopted, it is tantamount to placing a "Water for Sale sign" on the Great Lakes and second it will start us on a slippery slope, which could jeopardize the ecology of the entire area. Pentland suggests that there is a better way; the governors and premiers could simply agree to ban diversions of water from the basin. It would be legally defensible as long as they all agree, based on sound science that a no diversion policy is necessary to protect the water resources and integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem. He also suggests other options such as no net loss of water, but these would have to be more carefully structured to withstand legal challenges.

Drafted by Marcia R. Seitz-Ehler.

 
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