The Great Lakes are a Valuable Resource
The Great Lakes are a unique and precious resource, providing freshwater for 33 million people who live within the basin and supporting the region's ecosystem and economy. The Great Lakes basin contains nearly 20 percent of the earth's fresh surface water. It is the only freshwater system of its kind in size and ecological diversity and is essential to humans and wildlife alike, providing homes, food, recreation, and economic sustainability. The Great Lakes are critically important to the region. Nearly 11,000 miles of coastline surround the Great Lakes and their connecting channels and islands. Recreation is a 6 billion dollar industry across the Great Lakes region. For the people of the Great Lakes states, the lakes hold the key to economic health, to recreation, and to irreplaceable family experiences. To keep our water at home and support our way of life, we need to protect and restore this invaluable resource.
The Great Lakes are at Risk
The Great Lakes constitute a vast resource, but each year rainfall and snowmelt replenish only about one percent of the water in the basin, making them vulnerable to depletion and degradation. The other 99 percent is finite and nonrenewable. That fact, coupled with a growing demand for water by domestic users--including utilities, agriculture, manufacturers, and housing--and proposals to export water to other parts of the U.S. and to foreign countries jeopardize the Great Lakes’ future. Current laws are not strong enough to protect the Great Lakes. Leaders have a responsibility to keep the region’s freshwater resources safe for future generations.
Threats to Great Lakes Water Supplies
Threats to the Great Lakes water security range from local overuse to misguided export schemes. Unregulated water use has stressed some Great Lakes basin groundwater sources to the point that nearby wells have failed. In addition, private companies and others have proposed selling and shipping Great Lakes water out of the basin, where it can no longer replenish the fragile ecosystem.
More than 1 billion men, women, and children around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. It has been said that if "the wars of the 20th century were fought over oil. The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water." Current laws, including the Federal Water Resources Development Act, do not sufficiently protect the Great Lakes against the variety of pressures they will undoubtedly face in the future. Climate change will cause already dry parts of the US to become even drier. As the demand for fresh water increases in these areas, the Great Lakes may begin to look like a solution to water shortage problems across the US.
Unfortunately, we are already experiencing some localized water shortages within the region.
While protecting the Great Lakes from diversions outside of the basin is a serious concern, wasteful water uses within the basin represent a more pressing threat. We must address in-basin uses, as well as prohibit diversions out of the basin.
The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact
After nearly eight years of negotiations, the Great Lakes Governors have endorsed a precedent-setting agreement to protect and conserve the Great Lakes in 2007 and 2008. The Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact implements the Great Lakes Charter Annex signed by the parties in 2001. The Compact provides for comprehensive water use protections throughout the Great Lakes basin. In October 2008, President Bush signed the Great Lakes Compact to protect one of America's greatest natural resources. Consented to by Congress, the Compact is legally enforceable, setting this agreement apart from other Great Lakes agreements.
For the first time in the Great Lakes basin, the Compact and Agreement:
The Compact protects the Great Lakes from harm by implementing a strong and effective water management program. It closes the door on diversions to places like the Middle East and the arid Southwestern US, but it also puts our own house in order by protecting us from unwise water use in the basin. The Compact also allows the Great Lakes states to maintain control over Great Lakes water in the face of growing demand from across the nation and the world. The Compact guarantees the long-term protection and sound management of Great Lakes water, ensuring that they are protected for generations to come.
This Compact is important to all the citizens of the Great Lakes region who depend on the lakes for their way of life and for recreational opportunities. With the Compact in place, Indiana and the other Great Lakes states and province have outlined their intentions to conserve this valuable resource; however, more action is needed. As a citizen of the Great Lakes basin, you have a key role in influencing your elected officials. Contact your legislators today and ask them to follow through with their commitment to design Great Lakes conservation programs and monitor new diversions from the lakes. Ratifying the Compact marked a promising first step but will become meaningless without progressive policies and planning.