Good news for the Great Lakes

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These days, good news of the boating kind just doesn’t come often enough and it sure is welcomed as never before. That’s why it’s worth time to recognize the long-debated Great Lakes Compact, designed to prevent Great Lakes water from being diverted, was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Bush. Boating organizations surrounding the Great Lakes vigorously lobbied their state legislatures and, eventually, Congress for the Compact.

It didn’t happen overnight, of course. What positive government action does? In fact, it took nearly 10 years to finally solidify legal protections against diverting water from the five Great Lakes, their connecting channels and the St. Lawrence River.

Pursuit of a Compact actually began in the late 1990s, triggered when a Canadian firm was given a provincial permit to annually ship 158 million gallons of Lake Superior water in tankers to Asia. Public outcry was instant and, while the permit was later withdrawn, the case shook up all eight Great Lakes states. The governors questioned whether they had sufficient legal authority to block any future attempts. They didn’t. So, they began negotiating a Compact which had to be ratified by legislatures in all eight states. Final approval for any compact must come from Congress. In Canada, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have adopted similar policies.

The Great Lakes system contains nearly 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water. The region’s importance to our boating industry is obvious – it boasts fully one-third of the nation’s registered pleasure boats, not to mention the lakes also supply the water for eight states and two Canadian provinces with a combined population of 40 million.

The Compact ultimately drew bipartisan support in virtually all states. In addition to boating associations, support came from other sportsmen’s groups, businesses and environmental organizations. In fact, some environmentalists questioned whether it was strong enough, focusing on a provision allowing diversions of water in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons (designed to accommodate bottled water.)

In spite of that, the Compact puts to rest a growing fear that Great Lakes water could have become diverted by one state or another. No longer. Moreover, Congressional ratification of the Compact eliminates any diversion by federal authorities. So, enjoy the good news for boating in the middle of America, at least.

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