The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Great Lakes Compact

from Wildlife Promise

Halfway through efforts to implement the Great Lakes Compact, a new report by the National Wildlife Federation provides an honest critique of the states’ progress:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:  Implementation of the Great Lakes Compact” reviews the current status of state and regional implementation of the Compact in three critical areas:  diversions out of the Basin; water conservation and efficiency; and water withdrawal permitting.  For each area, the report gives examples of the good, the bad…and the downright ugly.

This report is a wake-up call to the states to step it up. The future of the Compact remains bright, but our Great Lakes need a renewed commitment by the states and the region to address the bad—and prevent the ugly.

The Great Lakes states came together to pass the Compact.  We can not let that unprecedented level of work leading up to passage of the Compact go to waste.

Highlighting a case of the ugly, the Ohio General Assembly recently passed legislation that sinks to a new low in the annals of Compact implementation.  As Andy Buchsbaum writes in his blog, Ohio’s unbalanced bill is drastically at odds with the Great Lakes Compact and threatens Lake Erie and water flows, placing recreation, tourism, and wildlife at risk. Lake Erie is already in trouble, but this bill will only cause further stress and potentially escalate harmful algae blooms.

The Compact is at a critical juncture. The Compact, a binding agreement among the Great Lakes states to protect the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin from diversions and excessive withdrawals, became law two and a half years ago.  Together with a similar agreement between the states and the Great Lakes Canadian provinces, the Compact set minimum requirements for water use across the Basin.  Each state agreed to implement the Compact by meeting a series of deadlines over five years, subject to regional oversight.  Today, implementation of the Compact is at the halfway point.  Two deadlines have already passed, and the final deadline is December 8, 2013.

Our report finds that all states are out of compliance with at least one of the water conservation and efficiency requirements of the Compact.  Compounding this problem is a weak oversight body (Regional Body and Compact Council) that is comprised of the states themselves to facilitate implementation.  Without effective accountability and guidance by the Regional Body and Compact Council, the Great Lakes and all of the waters in the Great Lakes basin may not achieve the most protective conservation programs and standards necessary.

Not only is this problematic from a resource perspective in protecting the Great Lakes from unwise water use, but it is also problematic in terms of the precedent and future of the Compact.  While we are still in the infant stages of the Compact, it is vitally important that states move forward rapidly to implement water reforms in order to showcase that this new law works.  Otherwise, we may not fully realize the potential of the Compact.

However, there is some promising news.  Highlighting a case of the good –Michigan’s groundbreaking online screening test for water withdrawals, which has won three national awards, is a novel means of predicting resource impacts and providing users with a quick determination.

NWF and others in the Great Lakes environmental and conservation community worked extensively for over a decade in negotiating and writing the Great Lakes Compact.  This new water management regime seals historic protections for the Great Lakes.

The Compact gave us a roadmap and the states need to follow its directions.

NWF’s goal is for each state to cross the finish line and fully implement the Great Lakes Compact. NWF and our partners have reached out to each state agency and are working together with them to meet the requirements.  We will continue to do so as our Great Lakes, and the people and wildlife that depend upon them…are too important.