Ban on Sale of Great Lakes Water 08/22:
On Wednesday a U.S.-Canadian commission recommended on Wednesday banning bulk water exports from the Great Lakes to keep the world's largest supply of fresh water out of the hands of commercial interests.
The International Joint Commission, a Canada-U.S. body that administers waters along their
border, recommended in its preliminary report that, "federal, state and provincial governments should not authorize or permit
any new bulk sales or removals of surface water or ground water from the Great Lakes Basin."
The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's fresh water, said the joint commission.
The report calls for a six-month moratorium on bulk water exports -- anything above 20 liters-- until its final report is completed in February 2000.
It also recommended that as long as water removals did not endanger the integrity of the ecosystem, they could be permitted if there were no more than a 5 percent loss on the amount taken out.
Over the next six months the joint commission will examine legal issues, gather more data and assess the impact of ground water removal.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy applauded the report's conclusion that there is no surplus water in the Great
Lakes, and added that amendments to Canada's International Boundary Waters Treaty Act will be introduced in the fall to prohibit bulk removal of boundary water.
Legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives asking for a moratorium on bulk water removals from the Great Lakes, said Tom Baldini, the U.S. chairman of the joint commission.
Currently about 1 percent of the water in the Great Lakes is renewed through natural infusions, and only about 2 percent of that is being consumed, said Legal.
"Only 1 percent of the Great Lakes is renewable. We can't think of the lakes as a bottomless reservoir. Once you go past that
1 percent, you are mining," Legal added.
Fear has been growing among some Canadians that if bulk water exports are allowed, little could be done to halt the trade of water and the ensuing effect on the environment.
If, for example, exports were allowed before a ban, making the water a commodity, and then the license was rescinded, a lawsuit could be brought against the federal or provincial governments under the North American Free Trade agreement, NAFTA.
The Council of Canadians, a 100,000-member strong national lobby group, praised the joint commission's call for a ban, and said: "The national treatment and proportional sharing rules of NAFTA would make it virtually impossible for Canada to restrict
water exports once under way."
Last spring the issue of bulk water exports made headlines after Ontario gave a license to Nova Group of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, allowing the company to ship water from Lake Superior to Asia. A public outcry persuaded the province to back down.
McCurdy Enterprises, a Newfoundland-based construction company, has applied for a permit to export more than 50 billion liters of water annually from Gisborne Lake on the province's south coast.
Meanwhile, British Columbia is facing a C$220 million compensation claim from Sun Belt Water Inc. of Santa Barbara, California, after the western province banned bulk water exports and squashed Sun Belt Water's and other companies' plans to export water to California.
Tom Baldini, the joint commission chairman, confirmed that an Alaskan company has already shipped water to China, an act he believes would not label bulk water a commodity, but which could theoretically trigger international trade laws.
"You have a right and an obligation to protect your ecosystem so that protects you," Baldini said.