WASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2008 (ENS) - Great Lakes governors and environmentalists today applauded as the House of Representatives voted 390 to 25 to approve a bill to ensure more sustainable use of the Great Lakes, which contain 90 percent of the fresh surface water in North America.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact has already been passed by the Senate and individually by the legislatures of each of the Great Lakes states. Today's congressional action completes a seven-year-long legislative approval process.The resolution now goes to President George W. Bush, who has committed to sign it.
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, Council of Great Lakes Governors Chair, said, "I applaud the members of Congress for their leadership in protecting the Great Lakes. Today's action reflects a successful partnership - one that we hope to build on in order to take even bolder steps to protect our Great Lakes. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and other partners toward this shared goal."
The eight Great Lakes states reached a similar, good faith, agreement with Ontario and Québec in 2005, which the provinces are using to amend their existing water programs for greater regional consistency.
The compact addresses the growing demand for water and the increased pressure to divert water from the lakes. In general, there will be a ban on new diversions of water from the Great Lakes Basin but limited exceptions could be allowed in communities near the Basin when rigorous standards are met.
"Millions of Americans depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water and recreation. However, existing law provides no assurance of the long-term supply of this vital resource," said Christy Leavitt of the nonprofit Environment America, a federation of state environment groups. "The Great Lakes Compact will help preserve one of the nation's most cherished natural resources for future generations."
In December 2005, following a nearly five-year negotiation, the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin reached agreement on the compact. Then the agreement went to the statehouses for their approval.
"Passage of the Great Lakes Compact is central to ensuring that harmful water diversions are controlled and this precious ecosystem is protected for future generations," said New York Governor David Paterson. "The Great Lakes, constituting nearly 20 percent of the world's available fresh water and 90 percent of the United States' supply of fresh surface water, need to be protected and cherished.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said, "By approving the Great Lakes Compact today, Congress has acted in a historic manner to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected for future generations. I thank Congress for its quick action on this important matter and look forward to the President's signature."
Under the compact, economic development will be fostered through sustainable use and responsible management of Great Lakes Basin waters.
The states will use a consistent standard to review proposed uses of Basin water, yet the states will have flexibility regarding their water management programs and how to apply this standard.
"Congress did the right thing today in approving this landmark agreement," said Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. "Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes are national jewels and this compact will help ensure they will be valued and protected for generations to come."
Regional goals and objectives for water conservation and efficiency will be developed, and they will be reviewed every five years. Each state will develop and implement a water conservation and efficiency program that may be voluntary or mandatory.
A broad, bi-partisan consensus has been built in support of the compact. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, mayors, local government officials and stakeholders have all been instrumental.
There is a strong commitment to continued public involvement in the implementation of the compact.
A recent Environment America report shows that America should turn to water efficiency first rather than draining more water from the Great Lakes and other waterways.
"Protecting the Great Lakes is not a Democratic or Republican interest - it's an American interest," said Leavitt. "The opportunity to save water through increased efficiency is tremendous."
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