By Reg Gilbert, Senior Coordinator, Great Lakes United
The governors and premiers of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin on June 18, 2001 signed documents to help prevent export or diversion of water out of the Basin and to improve water use within the Basin.
The governors signed a resolution to guide their federally-granted authority to veto diversion proposals from other Great Lakes states. The governors’ legal advisors had suggested that the previous lack of guidelines was a legal weakness in their authority.
The new guidelines appear to make diversions somewhat less likely. The guidelines include: (1) strong water conservation principles; (2) looking at the impact of future, similar diversion proposals; and (3) considering the impacts of diversion proposals on rivers running into the Great Lakes.
The resolution is an improvement over past practice, but it fails to mention groundwater diversion proposals and does not directly address environmental impacts of proposed diversions. The latter omission is significant because it is the key legal strategy of the resolution’s sister “Annex 2001” agreement.
The governors and premiers signed “Annex 2001,” a 3-year plan to create binding agreements among the states and provinces for using environmental protection principles to govern water uses within the Great Lakes Basin. The governors’ legal advisors recommended using such principles within the Basin to allow restrictions on diversions to withstand trade court challenges.
While generally a good blueprint for future decision-making on Basin water uses, Annex 2001 also has critical weaknesses. It does not address the Basin’s many harmful existing water uses and fails to require a clear social need for proposed water uses. The annex should also commit to much greater public participation during negotiation of the planned binding agreements.
For more information, visit www.glu.org or call Reg Gilbert at (716) 886-0142.