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Great Lakes boaters want to keep their water

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Ohio’s Lt. Governor, Lee Fisher, tossed Great Lakes boating interests a curve this week when the Toledo Blade reported Fisher said the Great Lakes might divert its water to other parts of the country in the future. Preventing the diversion of Great Lakes water has been a major objective of boat owner organizations, the boating industry and many similar groups in the 8 states that surround the Lakes.

One-third of the nation’s recreational boats ply the Great Lakes basin and while the region contains 20% of the world’s fresh water, the lake levels can significantly drop causing a variety of problems for boating such as those experienced recently when levels dropped and many docks and marinas were rendered inaccessible.

Diverting water from the Great Lakes system is also a political hot button. For example, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson created a buzz last October when he said the Great Lakes is “awash in water” and could send it to the southwest. Back in 1985, the Great Lakes governors signed a non-binding agreement to unite against diversion of water to the southwest. Congress followed by passing legislation giving each Great Lakes governor veto power over any diversion project. That expires in 2010.

In addition, there has been fear about possible large-scale selling of the water. For example, a Canadian firm, the Nova Group, got a permit to ship tankers filled with Lake Superior water to Asia in 1998. An outcry stopped it, but the incident elevated a movement in both the U.S. and Canada to permanently prevent it.

To accomplish that, the states formed the Council of Great Lakes Governors that has worked for nearly 10 years to hammer out the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (dubbed “The Great Lakes Compact.”) The Compact calls for the 8 states to act as a regional body so any future diversion could never be made unilaterally. In essence, all 8 states would have to agree to any diversion. Canada will also participate in the Compact.

To date, 4 Great Lakes States --- New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan – have ratified the Compact. It needs to be ratified by the other 4 states – Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – before it can be sent to Congress for federal approval. Once approved, the Compact will rule supreme, even over any future Congressional action.

Oh, yes, Ohio’s Lt. Governor yesterday stated he misspoke when he suggested the possible future sale of Great Lakes water. "I should have been more careful in my comments about diversion,” Fisher said, “because I should not have left even a crack in the door for diversion in the future."

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