Congress OKs Great Lakes Compact

The U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 23 approved the Great Lakes Compact, which now must be signed by President Bush to enact the historic water conservation standards. The President has said he will approve the measure.

In August, the Senate unanimously approved the bill; the House vote was 390 to 25.

"That Congress moved so quickly on these historic water conservation standards is a sign that our nation's leaders see the Great Lakes as a national icon," said Alliance President Cameron Davis, who helped draft the compact.

"This doesn't just signal the importance of the Great Lakes to those of us who live, work and play in the region -- it signals to the rest of the world that water conservation is a global imperative," he added

The Great Lakes are the world's single largest source of surface freshwater, representing 95 percent of the fresh surface water of the United States. The lakes provide drinking water for millions of people, numerous industrial and agricultural uses, navigation, hydroelectric power and energy production, recreation and tourism, and important fish and wildlife habitat. Although seemingly abundant, less than one percent of the Great Lakes water is renewed each year, leaving them vulnerable to depletion. The lakes' fragile ecology has suffered from pollution, invasive species, and the water diversions to support cities.

  Together with companion laws in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is an eight-state water management agreement to protect this fresh surface water resource. The pact stresses conservation and establishes first-of-its-kind decision-making standards for Great Lakes water use.

The compact's passage follows a frenetic few months, before which it had shown signs of resistance. After adoption by just two of the eight Great Lakes states in a two-year span, the compact sped through six state legislatures in six months. By mid-July, it had won support from all eight Great Lakes states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Both major party presidential nominees -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – consented to the legislation.

"Truly a consensus document, the Compact is the landmark framework to ensure sustainable Great Lakes water management for generations to come," said Dereth Glance, Executive Program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Work on the compact began 10 years ago, when the Great Lakes governors convened a special binational task force and an advisory committee to respond to the threat of water diversions to Asia. The task force first developed a set of principles called the 2001 Annex to the Great Lakes Charter, and then spent seven years turning those principles into the binding laws.

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