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Leaks in Great Lakes Compact?

While Great Lakes advocates are pressing for swift congressional approval of the Great Lakes Compact, groups concerned about water privatization are working to close what they call “loopholes” in the international agreement.

A coalition including Food and Water Watch, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, and the Council of Canadians is concerned that while the compact bans large-scale diversions of Great Lakes water, it provides exceptions for bottled water and for water labelled as “product.”

The compact, ratified by eight states with a parallel agreement backed by two Canadian provinces, would prohibit large diversions and set uniform standards for water use in the Great Lakes basin. It was approved by the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent on August 1, but House approval was postponed after U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich) issued requests for comments from federal trade agencies.

Stupak questioned whether allowing diversions of Great Lakes water as “product” would subject the agreement to international trade law. In recent years corporations have used trade agreements to overturn local environmental protections.

In a letter to the U.S. trade representative, Stupak cited his concern “that ratifying the compact could allow Great Lakes water to no longer be held within the public trust, but instead be defined as a product for commercial use.”

The coalition has met with members of Congress to press for an amendment to legislation approving the compact which would remove the bottled water exception and establish that the Great Lakes are held in public trust, said Sam Finkelstein, a Chicago organizer for Food and Water Watch.

While it may be too late for an amendment, he said, the coalition has found support for an effort to insert language of congressional intent affirming its goals into the bill’s conference report, perhaps followed by an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes, which worked with Great Lakes governors in negotiations over the compact, argues for prompt ratification, said Joel Brammeier.

“The Great Lakes Compact is the product of many years of negotiation and reflects the consensus of the Great Lakes basin on how to product and conserve these resources,” he said. “This isn’t the time to be arguing finer points.”

He added: “States have every right and authority to regulate the use of their waters for bottling within their own boundary.”

Finkelstein said “the exception was added because of pressure from companies like Nestles and Coke.”

“The fact is the Great Lakes are a shared resource,” he said, and while “it’s true states have the power to enact legislation on bottled water, the purpose of the compact is to create standards across the board.”

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation has battled a Nestles Ice Mountain bottling plant in Mecosta County originally projected to use over 200 million gallons of water a year. Efforts by MCWC and others including Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club to include more stringent rules on water exports in state legislation ratifying the compact were unsuccessful. Last month Michigan became the final state to ratify the compact.

The U.S. House is expected to consider approval of the compact in September.

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Category: environment, Lake Michigan, water

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