Senate Floor Statement on Great Lakes Water Compact: 07/23/08

In 1831, the great chronicler of early America, Alexis de Tocqueville, explored the Great Lakes. As he passed through Lake Huron, he observed of the empty, undeveloped expanse: “This lake without sails, this shore which does not yet show any trace of the passage of man, this eternal forest which borders it; all that, I assure you, is not grand in poetry only; it’s the most extraordinary spectacle that I have seen in my life.”

Nearly two centuries later, the Great Lakes remain one of the most extraordinary spectacles in the world. The sheer size of the Great Lakes is impressed upon anyone who has stood on their shores, or who has seen the outline of the Michigan mitten, which the Great Lakes make one of the most distinctive shapes and recognizable shapes on maps or satellite photographs of the earth. Beyond their awe-inspiring appearance and enormity, the Great Lakes help fuel an economic engine that stretches from Minnesota to New York, producing some of our nations most celebrated and relied-upon goods and agricultural products.

This morning, my colleagues and I are introducing a joint resolution to ratify an historic agreement to manage Great Lakes water, the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact. While the existing Water Resources Development Act law provides protection and authority to prevent diversions, the Great Lakes Compact will provide an effective means for Great Lakes states jointly to safeguard water for future generations. The Compact will ban new diversions from the Basin with certain limited exceptions, and those exceptions would be regulated. Further, the Compact keeps the authority to govern our water in the hands of the Great Lakes states.

The Compact states that “the protection of the integrity of the Great Lakes Ecosystem shall be the overarching principle for reviewing proposals.” For the first time, water conservation goals will be developed to deal with any water diversion proposals.

Beyond that, the Compact would specifically address withdrawals and diversions of both ground and surface water. This would represent an improvement over existing law because there are differing opinions on whether the current law addresses ground water diversions.

Additionally, because the Compact would provide a scientific method for determining whether to allow a proposal to divert water from the Great Lakes, it makes our efforts to protect the lakes more clearly compliant with international trade agreements.

This agreement has been in the making for close to decade, following the mistaken issuance of a permit for bulk water diversion by the Province of Ontario. In the 2000 WRDA, Congress directed the governors to negotiate a water management policy, and in 2005, the eight Great Lakes Governors and two Canadian Premiers came to an agreement.

I have heard that some people believe that there is a water bottle “loophole.” The Compact prohibits water in a container larger than 5.7 gallons to be diverted outside the Great Lakes basin. Though the Compact would not prohibit water withdrawals in containers less than 5.7 gallons, individual states would retain their authority to regulate bottled water in any size container. Again current WRDA arguably has no constraints over groundwater diversions.

I believe that the Great Lakes Compact is beneficial and will provide greater protections for the Great Lakes than the status quo. However, as is explicitly stated in this joint resolution, the Great Lakes Water Compact does not imply that it is necessary for Congress to pass the Compact in order for the Lakes to be protected from diversions. WRDA gives each Great Lakes governor veto power over certain types of diversions of surface water by any Great Lakes state. While this authority is clear, additional safeguards and standards will be helpful in the years ahead to give us a solid defense against WTO challenges and a solid basis to regulate groundwater.

Tocqueville further observed during his journey in Lake Huron, “Nature has done everything here. A fertile soil, and outlets like to which there are no others in the world.” Nature has, indeed, given us so much in the Great Lakes. We need to take this important step to pass the Great Lakes Water Compact so as to make sure that we conserve this precious resource, ensuring sensible use now so that future generations can benefit from the Great Lakes as we do.

Thank you Mr. President, and I ask Unanimous Consent that the Joint Resolution be printed in the Record.