Greater protection for Great Lakes looks likely

Legislation which will provide greater protection against the extraction of water from North America's Great Lakes looks set to be passed by the USA's Congress.

The Great Lakes Compact essentially bans the transfer of water from the lakes outside of their water table.

It has been drawn up to allay fears that the lakes could be used to alleviate water shortages elsewhere in the United States, or even beyond its borders.

The lakes, which straddle the US-Canadian border, contain some 20% of the world’s surface fresh water.

Before the compact was put before Congress, the eight US states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania which border the lakes, and the two Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, had to ratify an almost identically-worded document.

This effectively blocks them from abstracting water from the lakes for most of their own populations – as the majority of their territory falls outside the lakes’ water table.

John Cherry, chairman of the Great Lakes Commission which oversaw the production of the document, urged congress to pass the legislation.

“Congressional consent represents both sound public policy and responsible environmental stewardship for the largest and most important body of fresh water on Earth,” he said.

“The states and provinces have spoken with one, unified voice in support of this critical agreement; it is a voice Congress must not fail to heed.”

The compact looks likely to be approved by Congress but support has not been unanimous.

Perhaps surprisingly, most opposition has been due to a potential loophole which would allow drinking water to be bottled at the lakes then transported, though the compact does expressly forbid the transport of water from the lakes by other means such as pipeline or tanker.

Sam Bond

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