Media Release

Concerned groups challenge governments on export and diversion of Great Lakes water

Dec 05 2000

Toronto. Five Great Lakes environmental and community groups today called on the Great Lakes governors and premiers to take dramatic steps to safeguard the region from attempts to remove Great Lakes waters. The governors and premiers have been meeting for a year to outline a solution for the problem. The five groups also released a plan, called Water Use and Ecosystem Restoration: An Agenda for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin. The plan, available at, recommends what governments should do to ensure the protection of Great Lakes water."Time is slipping away," declared Reg Gilbert, senior coordinator for Great Lakes United, a lakes coalition. "A golden opportunity to prevent export and diversion of Great Lakes water to the rest of the United States and the world is being squandered. The governors and premiers need to reach an agreement and start to work." Legal opinions commissioned by the states have said that making water conservation and environmental protection the basis of the region's water use law would dramatically strengthen the area's ability to defend against future export and diversion proposals. Otherwise, international trade and domestic constitutional law might limit what state and provincial governments can do to prevent such proposals. "The best way to protect Great Lakes water is to assure that we use it sensibly and conserve it," said Tim Eder, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office. "That's what our plan calls for and what the governors and premiers must do to ensure that our waters are pure, plentiful and free enough to meet the needs of both people and wildlife." Noted Canadian Environmental Law Association coordinator Sarah Miller, "After the failed 1998 Nova Group export proposal, the state, provincial and federal governments promised action. But almost three years later they have still done nothing. Our Water Use plan shows the governors, premiers, and our federal governments what they need to do." The groups' suggested plan recommends that the state and provincial governments: 1. Focus on conserving water and reducing wasteful water use in the Great Lakes basin. The United States and Canada have twice the per-capita water use of Europe. The lack of strong water conservation efforts in the area provides a very bad example and dramatically weakens any case the region might make to domestic or international trade courts that export and diversion proposals are harmful and unjustified. 2. Place a ban on transfers of water between the watersheds of the individual Great Lakes.3. Place a moratorium on new or increased water uses in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin, including export and diversion proposals, until a comprehensive environmental protection strategy for Great Lakes water uses has been developed and implemented.4. Protect and restore the Great Lakes water system, not just fend off additional harm.5. Involve the public in developing and implementing the new protection strategy and making water use decisions based on it - including allowing citizens to formally challenge water use decisions.6. Continuously gather information on the connection between the water system and the life it supports and put it into a water information base that is understandable and useful to lay citizens.7. Guarantee every individual's access to water for the basic human needs: drinking, cooking, and bathing.The report also recommends that the U.S. and Canadian federal governments provide a constitutionally valid mechanism to enable vigorous state, provincial and tribal cooperation in waters protection. "No other Great Lakes issue impassions citizens and voters more than the prospect of Great Lakes water being drained away," said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation. "With demand for fresh surface water increasing around the country and the world, we need to practice the water conservation measures we preach." Said Marc Hudon of Stratégies St-Laurent, "It is imperative that the province of Québec and the shoreline communities of the St. Lawrence River play a strong role in protecting Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River water levels."- 30 -For more information contact: Reg Gilbert, GLU, (716) 886-0142Tim Eder, NWF, (734) 769-3351 Sarah Miller, CELA, (416) 960-2284Cheryl Mendoza, LMF, (231) 722-5116Marc Hudon, SSL, (418) 543-9681For a copy of the plan and accompanying fact sheets go to: Group profiles:Great Lakes United is a coalition of 170 organizations from the United States, Canada, and First Nations, working to protect and restore the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River ecosystem.Canadian Environmental Law Association, a public interest legal clinic, has advocated for Great Lakes protection reforms for over thirty years. National Wildlife Federation, the largest member-supported conservation education and advocacy group in the United States, unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife and the world we all share. Lake Michigan Federation, formed in 1970, is the oldest citizens' Great Lakes organization in North America. Its mission is to restore fish and wildlife habitat, conserve land and water, and eliminate toxins in the watershed of the largest lake within the United States. The federation has offices in Chicago and Muskegon, Michigan. Stratégies St-Laurent is a coalition of Québec's "ZIP" committees and some environmental groups. ZIP committees are responsible for getting local authorities, industries and citizen groups working together to restore ten environmental problem areas identified along the St. Lawrence River.