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Boating scores a victory on the Great Lakes

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It’s been 7½ years in the making, but last week the 8 Great Lakes states ratified an interstate Compact that will create unprecedented protections for the Great Lakes--St. Lawrence River Basin. The eight States of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will now send their Compact to Congress.

The marine industry and recreational (and commercial) boaters have been among the strongest supporters of the Compact. Among many other things, the Compact bans any diversion of Great Lakes water to places outside its watershed, with limited exceptions. Also, any water that gets removed from the basin must be returned. The five Great Lakes comprise the largest surface freshwater system in the world.

In addition, the Great Lakes region is home to more registered pleasure boats than any other part of the country. Five of the nation’s top 10 states in boat registrations are contiguous Great Lakes states. The region is home to more than 4.6 million registered recreational boats. Moreover, lawmakers in the Great Lakes-bordering Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, where there are another 1.6 million pleasure boats, signed a companion agreement in a parallel process that respects Canadian laws.

After more than 5 years of negotiations, all the region's governors in December, 2005, signed the interstate Compact and sent it on to their respective state legislatures. The Compact is an answer to thirsty interests that seek to tap Great Lakes water from as far away as Asia. In fact, it was a plan to ship Great Lakes water to Asia in tankers that triggered the governors’ quest for the Compact. Permission to ship the water to Asia was later rescinded in the face of the loud outcry from a host of Great Lakes interests, including the boating industry.

The Compact has already gained bi-partisan support. To date, more than 20 members of Congress, including both the presumptive presidential nominees of the major parties (Senators McCain and Obama) have expressed their support. Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan), George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and James L. Oberstar (D-Minnesota) will lead efforts to secure the consent in Congress. 

Historically, states and the federal government have supported interstate compacts to address water supply, water quality and flood control issues within the hydrological context of watersheds and basins. At least 41 interstate water compacts that have been consented to by Congress. Such compacts provide an effective means of managing shared water resources. Congress is expected to follow suit on this one as well.

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