This summer, policy-makers, environmentalists, trade experts, academics, and planners in Canada and the United States will be weighing in on one of the most sweeping new binational agreements on the environment in over 25 years.
The agreement between Ontario, Quebec, and the eight Great Lakes States sets out who gets to take water from the Great Lakes, how much, for what reasons, and under what conditions. One important issue yet to be resolved is whether ?Great Lakes communities? should be defined by natural or political boundaries.
The way that officials go about drafting and ratifying the Annex agreement will show whether informed decision-making or political expediency will shape the future of the Great Lakes. Right now, there is already a web of state, provincial, and federal rules that govern who gets to take water out of the Great Lakes ? if Annex 2001 complements them, makes them stronger, the Great Lakes will be more protected than ever before.
But there is a danger that a rushed agreement could eclipse those rules, and wipe out generations of public trust, common law, and statute on the Great Lakes.
If this happens, then the Great Lakes may be even less protected than before ? despite years of negotiation on the international stage and a grand-sounding new binational agreement.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper wants to make sure we get this right. The first draft was full of flaws and had little public support. This second draft is better, but still has a handful of major problems. The third draft ? the result of the current public consultation period ? must be the strongest draft yet.
But we don?t believe this will happen in one summer. We need an Annex agreement to protect the Great Lakes, true. But we also need wise decision-making and informed public consent. That takes time.
One year ago, we were told that the old Annex agreement was ?the best we can do.? Waterkeeper, along with many citizens and nonprofit organizations disagreed. Government officials went back to the table and came up with a new, better agreement.
Once again, we are being told that, ?this is the best we can do.? Again, Waterkeeper is respectfully disagreeing.
Despite the short consultation period, we are plowing ahead. Fifteen Waterkeepers on every Great Lake, with head offices in two provinces and four states are working together to mobilize the grassroots, frame our concerns, and draft a series of coordinated recommendations to make the Annex agreement the best one possible.
We will publish our recommendations to government in the coming weeks.
More information: www.powi.ca