Compact heads to CongressGreat Lakes residents have spoken. So have their governors and state lawmakers.
By: By JOHN MYERS/Duluth News Tribune, The Daily Telegram
Great Lakes residents have spoken. So have their governors and state lawmakers. And now Congress appears poised to make the same claim: Great Lakes water should stay in that region.
An interstate compact that would ban water diversions and bulk shipments outside the region, promote water conservation and require states to keep track of large water users received its congressional kickoff Wednesday in Washington.
Lawmakers from across the Great Lakes, including U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D- Minn., joined Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, at the U.S. Capitol.
The Great Lakes Compact has been approved by lawmakers and governors in all eight Great Lakes states. It must be approved by Congress and signed by the president to have the full effect of an interstate compact and of law.
A similar version has been signed by officials in Quebec and Ontario and serves as an international agreement of understanding with the U.S. states.
Supporters hope the compact’s momentum — it passed in three states in recent weeks after years of effort — continues in Washington.
“We must take seriously any potential threats that may affect the quality or available quantities of waters from the Great Lakes, such as climate changes and growing consumptive uses of water,” said Oberstar, who is chief sponsor of the legislation introduced Wednesday in the House. While there has been only “idle talk” so far of shipping Great Lakes water elsewhere, “conserving the priceless resource of the Great Lakes must be a top priority.”
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said Wednesday he will ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to hear the bill soon to keep the process moving. All 16 senators from the Great Lakes states are authors on the bill.
“With Wisconsin’s economy and environment so closely tied to the health of the Great Lakes, their protection is essential to our state’s well-being,” Feingold said in a statement Wednesday morning.
The compact prohibits the diversion or exportation of large quantities of Great Lakes regional water outside the watershed. It applies to surface water and groundwater.
The compact also puts limits on the use of large amounts of water within the region, requires states to issue permits for large water users within the watershed, encourages water conservation and requires the approval of all eight governors to change any of the rules.
The effort was spurred a decade ago when an Ontario company proposed exporting Great Lakes water to Asia by tanker. The company dropped the plan. But public outrage spurred officials on both sides of the border to craft a plan to limit diversions, especially with many experts predicting U.S. and global water shortages within the next few decades.
Great Lakes governors signed the deal in 2005, but it took three more years for their state legislatures to pass the compact, with the last states signing on earlier this month. Minnesota was the first state to pass the compact in February 2007. Pennsylvania became the last state earlier this month.
Almost 60 lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have announced their support, as have presumptive presidential candidates Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.
It’s not clear whether the legislation will move yet this year or be delayed until 2009. The Bush administration has not stated any opposition, and Oberstar on Monday predicted the legislation will pass this year.
While supported by most conservation groups, some activists say the compact has a major loophole that still allows bottled water from the region to be shipped overseas.