November 22, 2004

Ontario demands stronger protection in Great Lakes Charter Annex agreements

The Ontario government will not sign the current drafts of the Great Lakes Charter Annex agreements unless changes are made to enhance the level of protection for the waters of the Great Lakes Basin, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay stated last week. He said the province, supported by feedback from stakeholders, First Nations and the general public, "remains committed to its provincial law that bans diversions."

In the context of the Annex agreements, Ontarians and their government "want a 'no diversions' agreement, or the position of 'no net loss' as proposed by the International Joint Commission. In addition," Ramsay added, "we regard conservation measures as significant for the protection of Great Lakes waters. Ontario is not prepared to ratify the agreement in its current form."

Signed by Ontario, Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states in 2001, the Great Lakes Charter Annex builds on the 1985 Great Lakes Charter which was signed by the same parties. Both documents were a response to shared concerns about threats to Great Lakes water quality posed by proposals for large-scale water withdrawals or diversions out of the Great Lakes basin.

The purpose of the two Annex agreements, which were released for public comment in July 2004 (ELW July 26, 2004), is to implement commitments made in the Charter Annex. While the agreements would strengthen the regulation of water uses in many states, their terms and conditions are not as strong as Ontario's laws, which prohibit water transfers out of the province's three major water basins.

Provincial representatives were scheduled to meet with those from Quebec and the Great Lakes states last week, and Ramsay will also be consulting with his federal colleagues and Ontario's negotiating partners from Quebec. "We will be considering our position carefully before resuming negotiations in the new year," he said. "We will continue to seek input on the Charter Annex agreements from stakeholders and First Nations before we consider ratifying any agreement."

Another concern relates to who should lead negotiations on the Charter Annex agreements. Ramsay pointed out that if the federal government were to direct the negotiations, it would have to deal directly with the U.S. federal government, which would have to represent the interests of water users across the continental United States, not just the Great Lakes states. "We are concerned that other U.S. states may have an interest in accessing Great Lakes waters that will conflict with our desire to prevent diversions from the basin," he explained.

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