(November 28, 2005, Tarrytown, New York) - An international coalition of grassroots environmental advocates announced today its disappointment with several key provisions of the latest draft Great Lakes?St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement and the companion state Compact.
Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the world?s fastest growing environmental coalitions, has 143 members around the globe, including 15 member programs in the Great Lakes Basin.
The draft agreements released last week are the culmination of a four year process involving various stakeholders from around the United States and Canada and 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.
?While we appreciate and commend the process of public participation and input over these past four years, we feel the end product is deeply flawed in several key areas,? stated Lake Ontario Waterkeeper Mark Mattson. ?Overall, we feel that the Council of Great Lakes Governors has missed out on an important opportunity to provide proper, effective safeguards for this vital watershed.?
Waterkeeper Alliance staff attorney Lauren Brown added, ?In our comments on the draft agreements this past summer, Waterkeeper Alliance and many other members of the environmental community urged the Council to adopt more stringent standards with regard to many of the provisions. Unfortunately, with its final agreements, the Council has chosen to ignore almost all of our recommendations.?
Among the more serious shortcomings of the Agreement is the failure to adequately control diversions of water to ?straddling? counties. Under the draft Agreement, communities that are wholly outside of the Great Lakes Basin are free to use Great Lakes water as long as no ?reasonable? alternative exists and ?caution? is used in deciding to go forward with the diversion. Neither of these terms is defined in the Agreement.
?The draft language as it pertains to straddling counties sets up a slippery slope whereby communities outside of the basin ? with no hydrological connection to Great Lakes water ? will be free to divert water in much the same way that Basin communities can,? stated Waterkeeper Legal Director Scott Edwards. ?The 'mining' of underground water by straddling counties with no proof as to the supply source or its effect on the Great Lakes could prove the death of this important watershed as we now know it,? stated Canadian Detroit Riverkeeper Ken Cloutier.
The failure to mandate the use of sound science represents another pitfall of the current agreements. ?We still have major concerns about the current drafts that are expected to be signed by the Governors and Premiers here in Milwaukee, most notably, concerns about the shift in precedent from using hydrological boundaries to political boundaries,? said Milwaukee Riverkeeper Cheryl Nenn.
The Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper Karen Nadder Lago added, ?We are very concerned by the elimination of the objective calling for implementing the precautionary principle in all decision-making and replacing it with a much less protective adaptive method. That is just not acceptable to us and shouldn't be to the entire environmental community.? Other concerns exist with regard to the exemption of bottled water from the definition of diversion. The agreements pay lip service to the Public Trust doctrine, while representing an abandonment of this bedrock principle by creating loopholes that extend invitations to private entities wishing to bottle Great Lakes water. ?The public trust doctrine states that water resources are held in trust by the government for all people,? stated the Grand Traverse Baykeeper John Nelson. ?It is disingenuous to claim that you support public trust while allowing bottled water companies to freely withdraw public water for private sale.?
Despite the overall disappointment in the latest drafts, Waterkeeper remains cautiously hopeful that future steps will be taken to ensure the ecological health of the Great Lakes region.
?This Agreement is a small step forward in managing the very valuable Great Lakes resource we share. We hope most of the States will quickly move to hydrological boundaries rather than the straddling counties political boundaries and that all jurisdictions will ban shipping bottled water out of basin,? said Georgian Baykeeper Mary Muter. "It will be hard to defend these Agreements in court because they allow diversions based on politics, not science, said Doug Martz, St. Clair Channelkeeper." ?Unfortunately, as the agreements now stand with all their current vagaries, the future of the Great Lakes may only entail broader manipulation by politicians down the road,? stated Detroit Riverkeeper Bob Burns.
Waterkeeper Alliance and its Great Lakes member programs remain committed to ensuring the future integrity of the Great Lakes water basin. To that end, we will continue to advocate for strict limitations on all types of diversions and a more protective Annex agreement.
For more information contact:
Scott Edwards, Legal Director, Waterkeeper Alliance, (914) 674-0622 x203
Lauren Brown, Staff Attorney, Waterkeeper Alliance, (914) 674-0622 x205
Mark Mattson, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, (416) 861-1237
Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, (414) 287-0207 ext. 29
Doug Martz, St. Clair Channelkeeper, (586) 764-2443
Mary Muter, Georgian Baykeeper, (416) 489-8101
Sandy Bihn, Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Western Basin, (419) 691-3788
Robert Burns, Detroit Riverkeeper, (734) 676-4626
Ken Cloutier, Canadian Detroit Riverkeeper, (519) 257-2413
Shawn Lessord, Erie Canalkeeper, (585) 576-8092
Karen Nadder Lago, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper, (315) 686-2010
John Nelson, Grand Traverse Baykeeper, (231) 935-1514
Christy Radbourne, Thunder Baykeeper, (807) 623-7715