Proposed agreements will enhance protection of Great Lakes basin watersTwo draft agreements involving Ontario, Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states to protect and conserve Great Lakes basin waters have been released for public review. The draft agreements propose that the provinces and states strengthen the regulation of water uses by all jurisdictions, collaborate on state-provincial reviews of major water uses and diversions, and require water users to practise conservation and treat and return water to the basin after use. These combined commitments will increase the protection, conservation, restoration and improvement of Great Lakes basin waters for future generations.
The proposed agreements are intended to implement the Great Lakes Charter Annex, signed by the provincial and state governments in 2001.
"With these agreements, we are ensuring that future generations will enjoy the Great Lakes," said Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay. "The views of our citizens are vital to ensuring the final agreements meet the needs of Ontarians," he said, adding that "we will continue our dialogue with the other jurisdictions, while seeking public input on how to address potential changes to historical water diversions in the Great Lakes system." Ontario believes further dialogue with the other parties is needed to help resolve outstanding issues, such as how the agreements will deal with any future proposals to change major historical diversions such as the Chicago Diversion, as well as other issues that may arise during the public consultation.
In 1985, the premiers of Ontario and Quebec and the governors of the eight Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) signed the Great Lakes Charter, a good-faith agreement whose goal is to protect and conserve the waters of the Great Lakes basin. It was developed in response to shared concerns about threats to Great Lakes waters from proposals to divert large quantities of water out of the basin, and is intended to help avoid future conflicts and shortages. Through the charter, the parties have shared information on water use and have consulted with each other on proposals for major diversions or consumptive water uses.
The Great Lakes Charter Annex was signed by the same ten parties in 2001. Prompted by renewed concerns about proposals to export water in bulk, the Annex reinforced the principles of the original Charter and committed the parties to working out more binding protections within three years, including the development of an environmental standard on which to base decisions about water use.
The first of two draft Great Lakes Charter Annex implementing agreements is called the Great Lakes Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. Involving all ten parties, it calls for is each province and state to develop or modify appropriate laws and regulations for their jurisdiction. The other, known as the Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Compact, is a binding agreement among the eight Great Lakes states.
Once they are signed, the agreements will set out the minimum environmental standard for provinces and states to manage and regulate proposed water uses. The standard will also be used to guide the review of regionally significant proposals by all ten jurisdictions.
The draft standard is based on the following proposed criteria:
1. There exists no reasonable alternative to the proposed use, such as conserving existing water supplies;
2. Withdrawal will be limited to reasonable quantities for intended purposes;
3. All water withdrawn will be returned to the same Great Lake watershed, less an allowance for consumptive use;
4. There will be no significant adverse individual or cumulative impacts;
5. A conservation plan (for major proposals) or measures will be developed;
6. Proposals will be made for measures to improve the physical and biological integrity of the basin (for major proposals); and
7. Compliance with applicable laws and agreements will be maintained (e.g. Ontario's Water Taking and Transfer Regulation, and the federal International Boundary Waters Treaty Act).
The draft agreements also propose to set up a regional body which would review major proposals for water use against the minimum environmental standard, and would monitor the implementation of the agreement. The proposed process to be used by the regional body for reviewing major proposals for water use includes guidelines for:
notification of First Nations and Tribes in the Great Lakes Basin;
technical evaluation of proposals using the environmental standard;
consensus-building and dispute resolution among the ten jurisdictions; and
the issuance of public statements regarding whether proposals meet the standard.
Through the draft agreements, the parties also commit to develop programs to encourage water conservation and a system to enhance the gathering and sharing of scientific information.
The two draft implementing agreements have been released in all ten jurisdictions for a 90-day public consultation running to October 18, 2004. Comments received from the public will be considered in negotiating the final agreements. Once the premiers and governors sign the final implementing agreements, each province and state will seek to implement them by developing or modifying appropriate laws and regulations for their jurisdiction. In Ontario, comments can be directed to the Ministry of Natural Resources or the Council of Great Lakes Governors. The province plans to hold several public meetings across the province at locations and times to be announced. The Council of Great Lakes Governors will also hold a public meeting in Toronto on September 20.
The draft agreements have been posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry for public comment at www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/ebr/english/index.htm (Registry reference No PB04E6018).
Comments on the draft agreements may be forwarded directly to the Council of Great Lakes Governors by E-mail, Annex2001@cglg.org (electronic comments will be posted to the Council of Great Lakes Governors Web site, www.cglg.org), FAX, 312/407-0038, or mail to David Naftzger Executive Director Council of Great Lakes Governors 35 East Wacker Drive, Suite 1850 Chicago, Illinois 60601 U.S.A.
Comments may also be sent to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources by fax (705/755-1267), or by mail to: Annex Implementing Agreements Water Resources Section Ministry of Natural Resources 5th Floor, Robinson Place, South Tower 300 Water Street, P.O. Box 7000 Peterborough, ON K9J 8M5. More information on the draft agreements may be viewed on-line at www.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/EBR/gl_charter/index.html.