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GLIN==> Fixing the IJC Great Lakes diversions report

Great Lakes United Sustainable Waters Watch #12
Week of February 14, 2003


The U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission is asking the public to comment through March 3 on its forthcoming report on preventing diversions and protecting Great Lakes water quantities. The preliminary work on the report needs significant improvement if the report is to play a useful role in protecting the region's waters.

The report could have a significant impact on proactive efforts by the regionís provincial, state, and federal governments to protect basin waters from export, diversion, and misuse. Find preliminary materials prepared for the report on the IJCís Web site at www.ijc.org/pdf/tf_finale.pdf. Find also a 2000 report issued by the IJC on the same issues at www.ijc.org/boards/cde/finalreport/finalreport.html.
Last year the federal governments of Canada and the United States asked the commission for the second time in three years to look at:

o     The potential for bulk water removals and diversions and the possible effects of such removals and diversions over time
o     Basin ďconsumptive use,Ē that is, the amount of water lost to the basin through evaporation or incorporation into products
o     Current laws and policies that may effect water sustainability in the basin as a whole.

The IJC is a six-member body established by the 1909 U.S.-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty, in which the two countries pledge not to pollute the lakes or affect water levels to the detriment of the other country. Three commissioners are appointed by the prime minister of Canada, three by the president of the United States.


To the surprise and disappointment of the Great Lakes environmental community, the IJCís preliminary materials, prepared by an appointed task force, dismiss most concerns about Great Lakes basin water quantities. The materials assert that there is:

o     No basin consumptive use problem (despite basin per-capita water consumption double the developed-world average)
o     No threat of large-scale diversions (on the meager basis that past proposals were economically impractical)
o     No threat to the lakes from possible near-basin removals, because the ďno net lossĒ policy used in the 1998 Akron, Ohio, diversion should solve the problem
o     No need to hurry to change current state and provincial laws to protect basin waters, because it will be difficult to achieve and there is no pressing need for reform at the moment.


The IJC reportís preliminary materials are oriented to the short term and are not informed by a precautionary, protective ethic. The impetus for the commissionís water quantity report was the relatively recent understanding by most of the regionís governments that in the long term there may be proposals to divert and export bulk water from the Great Lakes. The report is intended to provide government with recommendations on how to best protect the lakes from these and other threats to the basin ecosystem related to water quantity. Unfortunately, rather than provide a solid basis for protective recommendations by the commission, the task force materials paint a false picture of basin water use and long-term demands that encourages complacency.

Among its many omissions, the task force material fails to:

o     Investigate specific large-scale water removal scenarios in the context of master variables such as continental water supply, continental climate change, and the price of energy
o     Technically assess the most plausible large-scale removal scenarios, particularly the possibility of 1) a substantial expansion of the Chicago diversion to supplement future low flows in the Mississippi, and 2) the conversion or supplementation of existing petroleum pipeline infrastructure to move water south and southwest
o     Critique U.S. proposals to replumb the Great Lakes to facilitate movement of huge ocean-going ships. The last such replumbing, in the 1950s, resulted in a 40-centimeter (15-inch) drop in the level of Lakes Michigan and Huron
o     Investigate the potential for proliferation of pipelines that move water from Lake Huron or Georgian Bay and transfer it into the Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario watersheds
o     Go beyond investigation of aggregate basin ďconsumptiveĒ water use (loss of water through evaporation or incorporation into products) to assess impacts of consumptive uses in local watersheds, where substantial ecosystem damage is already occurring in some cases
o     Technically assess the current state-provincial water withdrawal data collection system for comprehensiveness and accuracy
o     Assess the long-term impact of water withdrawals on the sustainability of the basin ecosystem if basin population increases and economic growth return to historic averages and if climate change results in lowered water levels.

The task force materials are also inexplicably dismissive of the ambitious effort by the basinís states and provinces to reform basin water withdrawal law to protect the ecosystem and reduce the likelihood of large, damaging exports and removals.


The commission members cannot personally address these deficiencies in the short time before the scheduled March 15 release of the final report. Therefore the commission should ask the Canadian and U.S. federal governments for a substantial extension of their deadline and appoint a new task force to conduct a more thorough investigation.

In general, the commissionís final report should be technically much more sophisticated than the current information they have gathered allows. The final report should recommend actions for basin water-related problems that are already clear, but also suggest precautionary measures for future scenarios deemed possible.


The comment deadline is Monday, March 3. Please take a look at the task force materials and write the commission about these or any other concerns and recommendations you may have related to the materials or the commissionís eventual final report. Be sure to include in your comments a description of any water quantity problems you know are occurring in your area.

You can reach the Canadian section of the commission at commission@ottawa.ijc.org, or by calling Fabien Lengellť at 613-995-0088. You can reach the United States section at commission@washington.ijc.org, or by calling Frank Bevacqua at 202-736-9024.

For more information, write Reg Gilbert at reg3@glu.org or call 716-886-0142.

Great Lakes Unitedís Sustainable Waters Watch is produced by Great Lakes United's Sustainable Waters Task Force with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Hahn Family Foundation, The John R. Oishei Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and our member organizations and individuals. The task force is committed to protecting and restoring the natural quantity and flow of water in the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River ecosystem. To subscribe, unsubscribe, or send stories, contact Reg Gilbert at reg3@glu.org or (716) 886-0142. Visit us on the Web or become a member of Great Lakes United at www.glu.org.