GREAT LAKES—An official with Restore Our Water International (ROWI) expressed her disappointment with comments made by the International Joint Commission (IJC) on a report released last week on Great Lakes water diversion.
“What’s disappointing is that in this report they are talking about things like ground water and climate change, but there was nothing in the report concerning having actual structures in place on the water—flexible structures being constructed on the St. Clair River to provide for water flows to restore and maintain water flows and levels for Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. There is none of that mentioned in this report at all,” stated Mary Muter. “Secondly, there is nothing of the plan proposed in 2014 to restore Lake Ontario natural level ranges so there could be wetlands restoration.”
“To not have those two things in the report makes it inadequate,” stated Ms. Muter.
“And I find it interesting that in the report they include water level graphs which show wildly varying water levels in Lakes Michigan and Lake Huron over the years that don’t exist in the other (Great) Lakes,” said Ms. Muter.
In an IJC release on January 19, the IJC “commended federal, state and provincial governments in the Great Lakes Basin for making enormous strides towards protecting the Great Lakes water diversions and managing consumptive uses.” In 2000 the IJC called for strengthening defenses against harmful water transfers out of the Great Lakes basin and the current report reviews progress since that time.
The IJC calls developments since then “for the most part a good news story.” The policy gaps identified by the IJC in 2000 have been largely filled. “But both ongoing management vigilance and additional scientific advances will be required to maintain that positive momentum.”
“The most significant accomplishment since the IJC’s 2000 report was the signing in 2006 of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Compact among the eight Great Lakes states and a parallel agreement among the states, Ontario and Quebec to ban most diversions and exports. The states and provinces have taken other important steps to protect Great Lakes waters from diversion and export,” the release notes.
“The citizens of the Great Lakes region have been well served by their governments, who have taken a reasoned and effective approach to stopping water transfers out of the basin,” said Canadian Commissioner Benoit Bouchard. “This is really a model for watersheds all over the world, emphasizing water conservation and stewardship.”
“There is no surplus Great Lakes water, as only one percent of the Great Lakes water supply is renewed each year by rainfall and snowfall,” said U.S. Commissioner Dereth Giance. “The IJC applauds the leadership exercised by the Great Lakes states and provinces, and recommends further strengthening of key measures, including water conservation, accuracy of water use data, and using adaptive management to promote resilience under future climate scenarios.”
To strengthen the region’s diversions further from large scale water transfers, the IJC recommends that: the states, provinces and federal governments develop methodologies for improving the accuracy of Great Lakes water use and consumptive use estimates; in addition to continuing to take an adaptive management approach to decision-making for diversions, consumptive uses, and lake level management, the federal, provincial and state governments incorporate climate resilience into policy and management practices.
The IJC further recommends that the states and provinces fully factor the adverse ecological and water quality impacts of groundwater withdrawals into water use permitting procedures and decisions regarding consumptive use; federal, state and provincial research continue to improve mapping and understanding groundwater aquifers in the basin, to determine where groundwater supplies may be degraded in the future and identify management methods for avoiding these problems; public and private sectors of society develop broad-based collaboration to enhance water stewardship by fixing leaking public water infrastructure, supporting innovation, and increasing funding to close the region’s water infrastructure deficit; and the states and provinces consider a bi-national public trust framework as a backstop to the 2008 Compact and Agreement.
“The IJC observes that there continue to be large voids between our knowledge regarding levels and flows, and the impact they have on the ecosystem of the basin,” the release continues “Due to prevailing uncertainties such as those posed by climate change and the sheer threat of the unexpected, the precautionary principle needs to be continually applied by basin jurisdictions to ensure the extent possible, adequate supplies for all socio-economic and ecosystem uses for the long term.”