The latest draft of the Sustainable Water Resources Agreements (a.k.a, "Annex 2001") are the culmination of a four year process involving various stakeholders from around the United States and Canada. They purport to provide increased protections for the aquatic integrity of the Great Lakes watershed over those already afforded by existing laws and policies. The draft agreements are scheduled to be finalized and signed on December 13, 2005.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's official submission to the Ontario government is available on our web site. Here's what we said:
Our response to the Draft Agreements
After reviewing the most recent draft Sustainable Water Resource Agreements, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is writing to express our grave concern that these Agreements fail to achieve their primary objective: protect the Great Lakes from water diversions.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has written about various versions of the Draft Agreements a number of times since October, 2004. Each time, we have expressed a strong belief that the Province of Ontario should only enter into an agreement that explicitly prohibits all projects that would divert water out of the Great Lakes Basin.
In October, 2004, Waterkeeper suggested that the draft agreements, "[are] 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."
In August, 2005, Waterkeeper wrote that, "This proposal marks the second time in the history of the Great Lakes that an agreement has been based on political rather than hydrological/ hydrogeological boundaries. The first was the Boundary Waters Treaty, which failed to include Lake Michigan. That omission is one of the main reasons Ontario is back at the negotiating table with the eight states. It is folly to make the same mistake again: The straddling counties exception should be removed from the Draft Agreement."
Unfortunately, the most recent draft Sustainable Water Resource Agreements include a permitting process that provides access to Great Lakes water by communities not actually located in the basin. In effect, this process creates a new right to Great Lakes water, one that we believe was absent under common law and the public trust doctrine. Further, this provision is substantially weaker than Ontario's own existing laws, which explicitly prohibit diverting water out of the Great Lakes Basin.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has consistently expressed our objection to using political boundaries - rather than ecological boundaries - to decide who gets to take Great Lakes water, how much, and under what circumstances. We do not believe that any government has sufficient scientific data to prove that these draft Agreements constitute "wise management" or are consistent with the principle of sustainable development. In other words, we simply do not have enough knowledge to foresee the very real consequences of these draft Agreements at this time.
Lack of data is augmented by the many vague and potentially vulnerable terms scattered throughout the draft Agreements. Examples include (but not limited to):
Prohibiting only "significant" environmental impacts (Article 203, 2)
Pairing "Environmentally Sound" with "Economically Feasible" in reference to water conservation measures (Article 203, 3)
Finally, on a point of procedure, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is disturbed by the numerous and significant amendments the agreements have gone through since being posted for public comment on the Environmental Bill of Rights Public Registry. Signing an agreement so different from the one the public reviewed could be perceived as a "bait and switch" tactic that casts a shadow over the fairness and transparency of the entire negotiations process.
While we welcome the Ontario government's efforts to protect Great Lakes waters, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper respectfully submits that better protections are still possible.
Our approach to the comment process
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is a registered charity, dedicated to protecting environmental rights in our watershed's communities. We have participated in the "Annex 2001" consultation process in order to offer our expertise and passion to the government of Ontario. We understand that our response to the draft Agreements is but one voice among many. In our view, it is the government of Ontario's responsibility to hear these voices and make an informed decision about what is best for the future of Ontario's Great Lakes communities.
Regardless of the outcome of this process, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper holds fast to the position that we have not come close to completing the scientific research that will help every Great Lakes government make informed choices for the future. We stand by our position that out-of-basin diversions threaten water quantity and water quality in the Great Lakes in ways that we cannot yet predict. Finally, we are firm in our belief that - regardless of international efforts - the government of Ontario can and should be a leader in the protection of Great Lakes waters.
Our appreciation for the Government of Ontario's efforts
In conclusion, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper would like to express our sincere appreciation for the efforts of the Ministry of Natural Resources negotiators and staff who actively sought public input and who have so vigorously pursued a strong agreement to protect Great Lakes waters. We understand that this process has been lengthy and involved a variety of stakeholders and congratulate them for their perseverance.