Stewardship - Leadership - Accountability: Managing Ontario’s Water Resources for Future Generations
On December 13, 2005, Ontario, Quebec, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin signed the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (the Agreement). Each of the signatory provinces and states borders on at least one Great Lake or the St. Lawrence River. Created largely in response to the threat of large water diversions and bulk water exports, the provinces and states committed to passing laws that protect surface and groundwater resources.
To reflect the commitment made in the Agreement, section 34.3 of the OWRA prohibits inter-basin transfers (i.e., the transfer of water outside of the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin) subject to some exceptions. However, intra-basin transfers, where water is moved from the watershed of one Great Lake to another, are not prohibited under the OWRA. Ontario is currently seeking input on potential changes to the Act that, if implemented, would govern intra-basin transfers, allowing them to occur under a certain set of conditions.
Intra-basin transfers of water from one Great Lake to another, such as from Lake Huron to Lake Erie, threaten to cause harm to the environment, both at the source and in the receiving watershed. Four of the Great Lakes are within Ontario’s jurisdiction. As demand for new drinking water sources is growing and groundwater supplies shrink or become contaminated, Ontario has the potential to emerge either as the Great Lakes’ biggest perpetrator intra-basin transfers or the greatest defender of watersheds against these transfers.
While there is ever greater pressure on the Great Lakes water supply, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submits that these threats do not justify consenting to water diversions that could threaten the integrity of the supply in the long term, while also compromising the ecological integrity of the lakes. Moving forward, new and amended statutes meant to enact the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement must explicitly ban all diversions of water out of the Great Lakes Basin and between Great Lakes Basins, without exceptions or criteria under which these transfers could occur.