FULL CUP | Volume 2

The Great Lakes Sustainable Resources Compact and
International Agreement: Integrated Watershed Management



by Derek Stack, Executive Director
Great Lakes United, Buffalo and Montreal
Member, World Water Center Advisory Panel

In the last World Water Center newsletter, Dr. Paul Robillard introduced the focus of Integrated Watershed Management on community participation as a means of ensuring local oversight and the longterm sustainability of water resources in developing economies. It’s a lesson revealed in the cooperation among the relatively advanced economies of the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces to pass the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and its sister International Agreement.

This goodwill and collective oversight is a relatively new response to centuries of unilateral action (or inaction) that saw states like Michigan all but ignore the need for water permitting schemes, and other jurisdictions like Ontario divert water between Great Lakes on a scale unmatched in the world.

Blessed with the world’s largest source of fresh surface water, the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces are also the most profligate water
consumers on the planet. The region’s cavalier approach to watershed management has proven costly.

A regional infrastructure deficit of at least $30 billion for waste and stormwater collectively dump over 4.4 billion gallons (90 billion litres) of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes every year. A new aquatic invader arrives every 28 weeks; and they quickly make their way to inland streams and rivers. The failure of governments at all levels to remediate the remaining 38 internationally recognized toxic hotspots in the Great Lakes basin is an embarrassment and testimony to the broad failure of federal efforts to reach the objectives of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

There are several reasons for the region’s abuse of water resources. Ease of access is just one. Certainly the Compact won’t fix all of these problems, but it shifts the region’s cultural response to water stewardship in helpful, more cooperative ways. The Compact and Agreement grant intervener status to states and provinces in court to ensure neighbouring jurisdictions get a say on activities that impact water quantity. The Great Lakes Compact and Agreement will restrict diversions, develop a baseline of water resources, regulate large scale water use, and regionally plan conservation efforts.

In the past, “dilution as a solution” seemed a reasonable answer. And when that didn’t work, such as in 19th century Chicago, where sewage outflows made
their way back to drinking water intakes causing cholera and typhoid epidemics, massive engineering projects were undertaken. Reversing the flow of the Chicago River, and connecting it to the Mississippi River allowed the city to jettison its waste downstream and out of sight.

As the quintessential example of how not to treat neighbours, the Chicago Diversion is excluded from the Great Lakes Compact. It is regulated by Supreme Court dictate and forced, over time, to “repay” earlier excess with limits on the water it diverts now. It was a lesson in sharing long in coming.

Competition among the Great Lakes states and provinces historically served as a disincentive to charge industrial and municipal water users fairly for their
water use or to regulate pollution. Instead of forcing industries to manage their pollution, responsibility was dumped on the public as a subsidy to commercial interests. The race to the bottom in terms of Great Lakes water quality was fast and reflected an underlying assumption that water resources in the region are limitless.

In truth, no one understands with full confidence the levels and flows of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The system renews only one percent of its
volume annually through precipitation; but ground water resources are poorly understood and many jurisdictions cannot say exactly how much water they are withdrawing and not returning to the watershed as waste water or run off.

To ensure comparability of data, signatories to the Compact are establishing baseline water resources, acceptable “use coefficients’ for water takings and a common threshold for Compact/Agreement applicability. Among the commitments: jurisdictions of the Great Lakes basin will share accurate and comparable information on all withdrawals in excess of 100,000 gallons (379,000 litres) per day. Smaller water use may not be the same in every jurisdiction but a common approach to the major users is a solid step toward understanding just how much water is being used and by whom. Only then can an effective regional
conservation strategy track progress (and per capita drops in consumption) over time.

A deplorable history of non-cooperation speaks for itself on water quantity; but as late as three years ago the Annex Agreements were nearly doomed to failure when early drafts proposed conditions under which Great Lakes water could be diverted. The proposal sparked nationalist panic through Ontario and Quebec advocacy circles concerned with possible threats of diversion to the U.S. Southeast and West. The irony was not lost on U.S. environmental groups fighting to keep Great Lakes water where it is. It was Ontario that first granted Nova Group a license to take water – intending to ship it overseas – setting in motion the entire Annex process.

In time however, ideologues on both sides of the border capitulated to a prohibitive framework for restricting diversions that includes emergency measures for natural disasters and pragmatic concessions to states like Wisconsin with cities that border the Great Lakes divide – counting those communities as “in” the basin so as to avoid splitting and duplicating water systems.

While it falls now to state and provincial legislatures to enact formal laws, the broad and constructive participation of municipal stakeholders, environmental groups and, yes, even industry in building Annex consensus was key. The region’s water dependent industries, in protecting their self interests, have done as much for the long-term water security of the Great Lakes as any other stakeholder. In the words of one business leader, “When people want sun, they go to Florida. Let them come to New York, Minnesota or Pennsylvania for freshwater.”

Ontario and Quebec, both dripping wet, championed the Annex Agreements in negotiations with the states and initiated on-going legislative measures to develop the regulations necessary to meet Annex obligations.

Meanwhile, the sheer speed with which the Compact sailed through U.S. congressional machinery this fall caught just about everyone pleasantly off guard. The non-Great Lakes states of the U.S. and the federal executive have affirmed regional control over water resources; and the Canadian federal government has also given its blessing to the Agreements.

The Great Lakes and St Lawrence River have long suffered from fractured and disjointed regulatory regimes. Targeting actions and making strategic investments requires collective oversight and good will.

Although each and every one of the Great Lakes jurisdictions has domestic priorities, only a collective effort can save the Great Lakes and that’s what the Compact will do.

The Compact is not without its detractors, many of whom are disappointed for what the Annex Agreements are not. I look to the history of the Great Lakes water wars and am satisfied for what they are – a framework for working together.

The Agreements kick-in 60 days after the last jurisdiction signs its final regulations into law. Our best target date for full operationalization is 2010. Much sooner than anyone expected.


Other Items of Note

Harper government wants to pull out of Canadaled water-monitoring program
from The Canadian Press, November 13, 2008.

The Harper government wants out of a Canadaled UN program that monitors freshwater around the world – a move seen by critics as the latest Tory abdication of global causes once championed by
Ottawa.

Experts say they're shocked Canada would abandon a database it designed and has managed for 30 years, just as dwindling water supplies emerge as a critical issue.

Environment Canada spokesman John Carey says the Global Environment Monitoring System is no longer a priority. "We would like someone else to take it over," he said of the database that tracks trends from 2,700 water-quality monitoring stations in more than 70 countries. Twenty-four United Nations agencies rely on those details to assess how increasingly precious freshwater sources are being managed.

Canada has most recently co-ordinated the system from labs at the University of Saskatchewan and in Burlington, Ont. The previous Liberal government set up a fiveyear trust fund worth $1.5 million that was allowed to expire last year, Carey said in an interview.

Scientific Panel Faults FDA for 'Inadequate' BPA Report from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 30, 2008

The Food and Drug Administration ignored valuable studies when it concluded last summer that bisphenol A (BPA) is a safe chemical, a panel of scientists said in a report to be released Thursday.

The panel, appointed by the FDA’s Science Board to review its task force report, called the FDA’s conclusions last August inadequate and recommended the agency abandon its earlier findings about the safety of the controversial chemical.


BPA, developed as a synthetic estrogen, is found in baby bottles, infant formula containers, the lining of aluminum cans and thousands of other household products. Scores of scientific studies spanning two decades have found it to cause a host of problems in laboratory animals, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, reproductive failures, autism and hyperactivity.

Other government panels, including the National Toxicology Program, have linked BPA to concerns about neurological and prostate development in fetuses, newborns and young children. Most significantly, the new panel report says the FDA’s conclusion of how much BPA is safe for people was too high and suggested the agency reduce it by a factor of at least 10.

The American Chemistry Council, representing makers of BPA, immediately released a statement saying it was ready to comply with whatever the FDA ultimately decides is a safe level.

“Once the FDA assessment is complete, the public can be assured that ACC and its member companies will comply with FDA’s direction,” said Tiffany Harrington, spokeswoman for the industry group.

“If the agency determines that existing margins of safety are insufficient in infant applications, our member companies that manufacture BPA will put processes in place to promptly phase out the use of materials containing BPA in baby bottles and infant formula packaging.”

The panel’s criticism of the committee’s findings was hailed by health advocates as a victory.

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Email info@worldwatercenter.org with your contact
information, location, and interest/experience.

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