January 17, 2005

Federal government adds its voice to call for protection of Great Lakes basin waters

A submission presented last week by the Canadian government to the Council of Great Lakes Governors, which includes Ontario and Quebec, urges the Great Lakes states and provinces to provide the same level of protection of water in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River basin as that already provided by Canada, Ontario and Quebec.

The submission is in response to the proposed Great Lakes Charter Annex implementing agreements currently being negotiated by the Great Lakes states and provinces. Canadian federal law prohibits out-of-basin transfers of boundary waters in bulk, a ban the federal government is committed to keeping in place. The draft implementing agreements propose specific administrative procedures pertaining to managing proposals for new and increased diversions, withdrawals and consumptive uses of water from the Great Lakes. The federal government made its submission after analyzing the draft agreements.

Federal Environment Minister St√ąphane Dion said that "after reviewing the draft agreements, consulting with our provincial partners and listening to the concerns of Canadians, we believe that the proposed agreements do not provide a sufficient degree of protection to these critically important waters and require strengthening."

The submission makes clear the need for an ecosystem perspective to inform the management of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin and for decisions to be based on sound science, sustainable management, a precautionary approach and ongoing public involvement. It also recognizes that the proposed agreements include positive elements that would improve management of water within the basin, such as requiring better data on existing and new withdrawals and consumptive uses of water.

Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew noted that Canada's submission "confirms that obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) are unaffected by the proposed agreements. It also underlines the ongoing, central importance of the International Joint Commission-the binational organization responsible for preventing and resolving disputes primarily concerning water quantity and quality along the Canada-US boundary," he added.

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