Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Great Lakes Republic

Imagine with me for a moment if you would. The year is 2030. The world is thirsty, and 30 Great Lakes Commissioners are meeting in secret to decide the future of the 8 states and 2 provinces bordering the Lakes which they represent. What’s on the table? Six quadrillion gallons of fresh water, 20% of the world's surface supply which is going for $2.00 per gallon, control of the shipping and commerce throughout the Great Lakes where canal and locks fees alone easily exceeded the GNP of most Third World Countries, and over 1.4 million square miles of real estate, which because of global climate change has become all but priceless. What brings them to the table? The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains, salt water contamination of the coastal water tables caused by rising sea levels and near dust bowl conditions all across the Deep South.

The Commissioners are gathered to devise a plan to protect The Great Lakes Compact and thereby maintain complete control of the world’s largest readily available fresh water supply. Hours of talk and debate bring them to one workable solution, succession, and the creation of The Great Lakes Republic which they believe will quickly become one of the richest nations on earth.

I’m not a conspiracy nut or an alarmist. The above exercise of the imagination is just my way of emphasizing the importance of good water resource management today, and to introduce my subject The Great Lakes Compact. (GLC)

Concerned about the risk of long-range Great lakes water exports, the Great Lakes state Governors and Canadian Premiers signed an agreement to defend against water raids in 1985. Known as the Great Lakes Charter, it was never fully implemented by the states and provinces. After an Ontario company received a permit to take up to 50tankers of water from Lake Superior in 1998, the Governors and premiers proposed to toughen the Charter with new agreements. The goal was to build a stronger legal and natural resource-based defense against harmful water use and exports. Almost 10 years later The Great Lakes Compact has become the law of the land.

The States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin as well as the Province of Ontario and the Province of Quebec have signed and adopted the GLC which now establishes five general areas of responsibility, that through means of joint or cooperative measures between the signatories will hopefully become the model for water resource management in the 21st century.
1. To promote the orderly, integrated, and comprehensive development, use, and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin.
2. To plan for the welfare and development of the water resources of the Basin as a whole as well as for those portions of the Basin which may have problems of special concern.
3. To make it possible for the states of the Basin and their people to derive the maximum benefit from utilization of public works, in the form of navigational aids or otherwise, which may exist or which may be constructed from time to time.
4. To advise in securing and maintaining a proper balance among industrial, commercial, agricultural, water supply, residential, recreational, and other legitimate uses of the water resources of the Basin.
5. To establish and maintain an intergovernmental agency the end that the purposes of this compact may be accomplished more effectively.

The GLC also in effect bans the diversion of Great Lakes water to areas outside of the basin (With few exceptions) and sets responsible standards for water use and conservation within the basin.
The newly empowered Great Lakes commission will now be able to consider adaptive management principles and approaches, recognizing and providing adjustments for the uncertainties in the evolution of science concerning the basins water resources, watersheds, and ecosystems, including potential changes to basin-wide processes such as lake level cycles brought about by climate change.

The full text of the Great Lakes Compact reads like a constitution it is a very complex yet well thought out document that gives the member states/provinces near sovereign control over the Great Lakes. Here in my home state of Ohio, we think of the GLC as an experiment in water conservation and management, one that we hope will help to forestall many of the world’s water woes by setting an example of how intelligent science based water resource management can lead the way to a future where water problems, will be problems solved.

A little history, there were 3 important measures leading up to the GLC.
1. The Boundary Waters Treaty is the 1909 treaty between the United States and Canada which sets forth guidelines for sharing the lakes. An interesting point, this treaty was one of the 1st to include environmental wording, in article IV of the document it is stated :
"It is further agreed that the waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other".

2. The creation of The Great Lakes Commission established by joint legislative action of the Great Lakes states in 1955 (the Great Lakes Basin Compact) and granted congressional consent in 1968.

3. A Declaration of Partnership established associate membership for the provinces in 1999.

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