November 28, 2005

Stronger Great Lakes Annex agreements ban diversions, provide basin-wide standards

The Ontario government has released new drafts of the Great Lakes Charter Annex implementing agreements. The new draft Great Lakes Charter Annex agreements, if signed, would provide a virtual prohibition against diversions, basin-wide environmental standards and better conservation measures.

The agreements, intended to implement the 2001 Great Lakes Charter Annex, have been the subject of negotiation by Ontario, Quebec and eight Great Lakes states since July 2004. "The negotiations have resulted in some changes to the draft agreements," said Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay. "On November 10, the provinces and states agreed to start a 30-day period during which each jurisdiction would decide if they would ratify the agreements. That period ends on December 9."

Under the 2001 Great Lakes Charter Annex, the ten jurisdictions - Ontario, Quebec, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - committed to protect and manage Great Lakes waters through agreements setting a common standard for decisions about proposed water uses. Previous drafts of the agreements were released for public comment on July 2004 and in June 2005.

Following the public comment period in August 2004, Ontario refused to sign the earlier drafts, saying additional changes were needed to enhance the level of protection for the waters of the Great Lakes basin. Since the end of the most recent public comment period on August 25, the ten jurisdictions have been conducting further negotiations, resulting in a consensus reflected in the agreements released November 23.

"The revised Charter Annex agreements are fundamentally changed from the drafts released last year," said Ramsay. "The new agreements ban diversions out of the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions governed by strict controls for communities and counties on the edge of the basin. We have set clear limits beyond which water cannot be taken."

The new draft agreements would reinforce Ontario's laws banning water diversions as well as its stronger conservation measures and tougher rules introduced to govern water taking. Ontario is also seeking a stronger environmental standard for regulating water uses across the basin that will significantly increase the control of water uses in the Great Lakes states. There is currently no such standard.

The agreements are based on the overall principles of ecosystem protection, the precautionary approach, recognition of cumulative impacts and climate change uncertainties. As currently re-drafted, their provisions:

* prohibit diversions, with a few strictly regulated exceptions;

* strengthen water conservation;

* establish a stronger new minimum environmental standard for water use regulation across all basin jurisdictions;

* formally recognize the authority of the federal governments and the International Joint Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty; and

* provide a stronger voice for Ontario citizens, including First Nations, in the regional review of significant water use proposals by other jurisdictions.

The Great Lakes Charter Annex implementing agreements may be viewed on-line at www.mnr.gov.on.ca/mnr/water/greatlakes/.

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