19 Jun 2008

Great Lakes Compact Signed

RS sent me an interesting analysis of the GLC. All I know is that it is meant to restrict exports of water, but I asked RS to tell me about management of water to areas that are inside the "local zone". RS says:
The Great Lakes Compact essentially allows governors to veto any plan to divert Great Lakes water to other regions of the country unless all of the governors in the region agree. The compact was signed in 2005 by chief executives of eight Great Lakes states -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as two Canadian provinces.

While the compact would generally set principles for controlling new and increased taking of water for business and other use, it leaves it to the individual states to establish the rules under which they would hold up their ends of the bargain.

The water restrictions wouldn't kick in unless someone diverts at least 100,000 gallons a day.

The compact was proposed by Great Lakes governors in December of 2005, under the direction of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, as an historic water-usage agreement among the eight Great Lakes states. Its purpose, simply, is to show the region can be a responsible steward of Great Lakes water before the federal government takes control of the resource - which, of course, could still happen.

The Compact as written contains page after page of language that lacks definition, as outlined by our highly respected Legislative Council. The significant amount of language lacking definition in the Compact indicates this issue almost certainly will wind up in federal courts for years and years to come.

Looks like water wars to me.
Bottom Line: Vague and grands gestures will lead to grand and vague arguments. Is the GLC just lipstick on a pig?


gaw said...

The last time (summer 2006) I was out on one of the Great Lakes (Lake Huron/Georgian Bay) you could see that the water level was down at least 2 feet. Popular sentiment amongst the Canadians is that this is because the Americans are pumping tonnes of water out of the lakes to irrigate the Mid-West thanks to the "pact".

I don't know whether there is any truth to this, and I'm not naive enough to think that we (Canada) aren't abusing the lakes just as much, but at this rate tensions over water and other resources (oil, lumber, crops) will present a significant test for the relationship between our countries if business and the almighty dollar continue to dictate policy on both sides of the border.

noah_hall said...

The summary of the Great Lakes Compact is not entirely correct and understates the policy reforms specified under the compact. For more information, readers may want to look at http://www.greatlakeslaw.org/glelc/great-lakes-compact.html and the linked resources.

Noah Hall
Great Lakes Law blog

wch said...

I got interested in water issues because of the GLC and it's helped shape the my career path so I have a special interest. It will be interesting to see how the debate takes shape as the 8 GL states ratify it and it moves on to Congress. Is the Compact perfect? Certainly not. Is it better than the Water Resources Development Act that currently governs decisions about GL diversions? Absolutely.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Compact years of discussions and negotiations has been a raised awareness among both policy makers and the general public of the importance of the lakes and water in general to the economies and way of life of people in the GL region. In Wisconsin people are actually beginning to discuss water conservation, conservation pricing, the interconnections between groundwater and surface water and more, in part because of the spotlight that has been on the state, particularly SE Wisconsin, during the Compact negotiations.

There is at least one community (Waukesha) that has conservation pricing in the state. Are the rates there high enough to make a difference? Probably not. And they only apply to residential usage. But it's a start. Communities like Madison are at least beginning discussions about following Waukesha's lead and moving away from decreasing block water rates. Curmudgeons in the water utility continue to block any move toward significant rate structure re-designs, however. The Public Service Commission, which governs all the water and energy utilities in the state, is actually putting pressure on communities to increase their billing frequency from twice a year or quarterly to monthly so that consumers get some feedback on their consumption. It wasn't all that long ago that the PSC did not allow communities to have anything but rates that encouraged consumption.

I'm not going to credit the Compact with all of this, but it certainly has played a major role in elevating the level of interest around water quantity in a state with 15,000+ lakes and 40,000+ miles of rivers and streams.

Anonymous said...

Resources like the Great Lakes suffer from the "Tragedy of the Commons". The GLC is a step away from a commons legal framewaok to a ownership framework. We should all reconnize that as a step foreword.

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