A recent poll from the U.S. tells us that 96% of Great Lakes residents believe we need to do more to protect them. The lakes provide drinking water, fish, and food for tens of millions of people. They support commerce, travel, trade, and recreation.
It is clear: we all want to protect the Great Lakes. To help us, politicians, academics, and environmentalists have been hammering out an international agreement that would govern the way water is taken out of the Great Lakes. The agreement is referred to as Annex 2001 or the Great Lakes Water Management Initiative.
Unfortunately, their agreement will not protect our Great Lakes. Annex 2001 provides a streamlined, bureaucratic method of securing approvals to withdraw water from the Great Lakes. It replaces the messy, political process that exists in the U.S. today, whereby any state has veto power over such an approval.
This push to "streamline" environmental protection is not new. The same ideology lies behind the review of Ontario?s Environmental Assessment Act and the push for voluntary, co-operative abatement programs at polluting facilities. In each case, the efforts to streamline place a tremendous burden on citizens to prove that their communities are or will be harmed.
Annex 2001 is like a pre-emptive strike, attempting to create a system for water withdrawals before thirsty municipalities and corporations can force us to negotiate on their terms. The pre-emptive strike, however, results in a non-binding agreement full of loopholes and concessions. The Council of Great Lakes Governors calls the proposal, "pragmatic." One environmental organization was quoted as saying Annex was, "the result of serious compromise."
In exchange for allowing water to be taken out of the Great Lakes, we are promised habitat restoration and water quality improvement. But both Canadians and Americans alike have binding laws and policies that protect water quality, habitat, and health. Thus, Annex 2001 is false charity.
After Annex 2001 was released, it was the subject of local, national, and international attention. This is a sign that the public is genuinely interested in building better futures for our maritime communities.
The document itself is a sign of futility, rendered obsolete in light of our communities' passion. Any international agreement should enshrine our rights to swim, drink, and fish safely on the Great Lakes. Instead, Annex 2001 ensures that our existing environmental standards will never be met unless we make more concessions to industry and development interests.
We live on the greatest freshwater system in the world, and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper would never support a race to the bottom for lower standards.
Ontario should send Annex 2001 back to the drawing board: this is not the best that we can do.