Blog: Great Lakes Premiers and Governors Fail First Test of Key Great Lakes Agreement


On Wednesday, the Great Lakes governors and premiers – including Ontario – squandered the opportunity to make sure that the Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (and the corresponding Great Lakes -St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact) served their intended purpose to protect the Great Lakes from unnecessary diversions. The Regional Body recommended that the City of Waukesha’s diversion proposal from Lake Michigan be approved with conditions.

The review process was flawed and so was the ultimate recommendation. This will set a dangerous precedent for all future proposals.

The need for a strong Great Lakes Agreement was made obvious in 1998, when the Ontario government issued a water-taking permit to Nova Group Ltd. to export and sell water from Lake Ontario. After a strong public outcry, the permit was cancelled. The Great Lakes states and provinces realized that they needed to better manage diversion applications from the Great Lakes.

Ontario took a strong leadership role during the negotiations of the Agreement. It resulted in a better agreement on paper.

But, the first test of the Great Lakes Agreement has effectively weakened its standards. Nine Great Lakes governors and premiers approved Waukesha’s application with conditions. Minnesota abstained. The governors and premiers should have rejected the proposal outright.

Ontario did play a role in adding conditions to the approval and in reducing the amount of water to be diverted from 10.1 million gallons per day to approximately 8.2 million gallons per day.

Those changes don’t get to the heart of the matter – whether there is a reasonable alternative to diverting Great Lakes water. Other similar communities treat their water for radium. An independent engineering report found that the water could be treated to address all environmental problems, and at a much lower cost. The Regional Body has not adequately explained why other alternatives to the diversion proposal weren’t considered reasonable.

The Regional Body’s recommendation ignores the widespread public opposition to the Waukesha proposal. Out of 11,200 public comments received by the Regional Body, 99% of the comments (and 100% of the Canadian comments) opposed or expressed concerns about the proposal.

The public also only got a chance to comment on the original proposal, and hasn’t been able to weigh in since early March. The public’s comments pre-dated Ontario’s Technical Review and all of the changes to the proposal during the last few weeks, including the added conditions and the reduction of the diversion amount. The public should have been asked for further comments. It wasn’t. The process needs to be changed so that the public has a real say on the final proposal being considered.

From here, the Great Lakes governors have a final chance to vote on Waukesha’s diversion proposal. All U.S. States have a veto.

For more information, contact:
Jacqueline Wilson – 416-960-2284 ex 7213