By: David Higby, Environmental Advocates of New York
Comprehensive Great Lakes restoration and better protections against Great Lakes water diversions got its latest boost when the New York State Assembly accepted a request by Environmental Advocates of New York to hold a field hearing on the two critical issues. A diverse group of interested parties gathered in Rochester to give four hours of testimony to the chairs of the Environmental Conservation and Rural Resources committees and the Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus. Members and staff of several legislative commissions, including those for Water Resources and Toxic Cleanups,were also in attendance.
The testimony, from academics, environmentalists, local officials, water users, and grassroots activists, was informed and wide-ranging. Governor George Pataki’s spokesman, Donald Zelazny, said the work now being accomplished by representatives of the Great Lakes governors to assure regional control of major water withdrawals and diversions (a process known as the Annex 2001), could set a precedent worldwide for responsible water management. Sierra Club New York Conservation Chair Hugh Mitchell pointed out that toxic hot spots known as Areas of Concern (AOCs) remain unresolved. Ray Vaughn, a scientist for the state Attorney General, explained how invasive aquatic species, a menace on the verge of spiraling out of control, and one that already costs the state millions, could become the largest single threat to the basin and its economy.
Great Lakes United’s Reg Gilbert warned that if the current attempt to pass a meaningful “Annex 2001” reform of basin water rules is delayed, thirsty midwestern and southern states could use their increasing voting advantage in Congress to block future proposals, effectively take control of Great Lakes water out of the hands of basin states governors.
The hearing’s findings make one thing very clear: In the debates that will be taking place over the next few months and years about protection against water diversions and other Great Lakes issues, New York State has much at stake.