News Analysis: Great Lakes States Move Toward Water Accord

The Pennsylvania legislature just approved the Great Lakes- Saint Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. Pennsylvania legislators were the last among the Great Lakes states to approve the agreement. The Allegheny Front's Ann Murray joins producer Jennifer Szweda Jordan to talk about what this first ever comprehensive water management accord could mean for the ecology and economy of the Great Lakes region.

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OPEN: The Pennsylvania legislature just approved the Great Lakes- Saint Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. Pennsylvania legislators were the last among the Great Lakes states to approve the agreement. Ann Murray joins producer Jennifer Szweda Jordan to talk about what this first ever comprehensive water management accord could mean for the ecology and economy of the Great Lakes region.

J: What is the Great Lakes ñSt Lawrence River Basin water compact?

A: The pact is an agreement among the Great Lakes states to regulate large scale exports of water from the Great Lakes basin.

J: How would the pact work?

A: It would stop any new or increased exports of water from the basin from users outside the Great Lakes region.

J: Thatís true across the board?

A: No, there would be some limited exceptions including allowances for counties that are adjacent to the Great Lakes basin. But states would have to vote to allow these counties to use the water. And any water taken out of the region would have to be returned.

J: I guess that would discourage use outside of the basin?

A: Sure, thatís the point of making it tough to get the water.

J: How would the states account for the amount of water they have in the basin?

A: Each state would have to develop a water inventory and also figure out a conservation plan. That includes accounting for and conserving groundwater , lake water, and water from inland streams and rivers.

J: Is this kind of pact particularly important now that water has become such a hot commodity?

A: Yes as water becomes more and more scarce in areas like the drought-prone southwest , itís become more and more expensive to buy.

J: But weíre not just talking about regions in the US thirsting after water from the Great Lakes, are we?

A: No, in fact about ten years ago Great Lakes governors started to consider a ban when water from the region was going to be shipped to Asia. Shipments were initially OKed but with mounting criticism , the shipments were stopped and thatís when the movement to restrict water from the region was born.

J: Since then the Great Lakes have taken a drop in overall volume havenít they?

A: The Great Lakes are hitting record low levels. The water is so low that big cargo ships are running aground. Scientists are arguing whether this is just part of historic volume trends for the Great Lakes, or if it's because of global warming. Lake Erie, the most shallow of all of the Great Lakes, has been particularly hard hit.

J: How would the water pact become law?

A: It had to be passed by the legislatures of all eight Great Lakes states which it has. Next it has to be approved by the US Congress and by the President.

J: Is this the first of its kind model of a basin-wide approach to water decisions?

A:Yes, it is. Thereís†a companion agreement in the bordering Canadian provinces of Ontario and QuÈbec.

J: What are the chances of making it through Congress and being signed by the next president?

A: No organized opposition to the pact is on the horizon. The presidential nominees of both major parties have endorsed the plan. Congress has not been reticent to approve multistate pacts in the past. The Associated Press counts 200 of them on the books, 41 focused on water management.

J: So itís a done deal?

A: No. Proponents of the pact are worried that congressional delegates from water starved states could put a wrench in the works so they want to move the pact through Congress as quickly as possible. The Great Lakes states are losing population and congressional representatives while the southwestern states are gaining population and congressional representatives.

J: Thanks

A: Sure.