[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

GLIN==> IJC Interim Report on Bulk Water Exports

Posted on behalf of Fabien Lengellé <LengelleF@ottawa.ijc.org>

 IJC recommends moratorium on bulk removals and sales of Great Lakes
water (report available at <http://www.ijc.org> )

In its interim report under the Water Uses Reference, released today, the
International Joint Commission (IJC) recommends that, for the next six
months while the IJC completes its investigation, U.S. and Canadian federal,
state and provincial governments should not authorize or permit any new bulk
sales or removals of surface water or groundwater of the Great Lakes basin
and should continue to exercise caution with regard to consumptive uses of
these waters, in accordance with existing laws in both countries and the
Great Lakes Charter.

The Commission also advances as an interim recommendation that no removals
should be allowed that would endanger the integrity of the waters of the
ecosystem of the Great Lakes basin. The Commission proposes a number of
conditions that would determine whether certain removals may be considered,
prima facie, not to endanger that integrity. The Commission further
recommends actions to improve the development of information needed about
current and future consumptive uses and to expand knowledge concerning

The interim report responds to the request made by the governments in their
February 10, 1999 Water Uses Reference for interim recommendations for the
protection of the waters of the Great Lakes. In preparing its interim
report, the IJC considered testimony at its eight public hearings, written
comment, the work of its study team, and consultations with technical
experts, government officials and other interested parties. A final report
will be submitted to the governments by February 2000, after completion of
phase II of the IJC's study.

During the first six months of study, the IJC reached the following
preliminary conclusions, which are included in the interim report:

*       Removals of water from the Great Lakes basin reduce the resilience
of the system and its capacity to cope with future, unpredictable stresses.
It is not possible, with current knowledge, to identify, with any
confidence, all the adverse consequences of water removals in order that
they may be mitigated.

*       There is never a 'surplus' of water in the Great Lakes system. Every
drop of water has several potential uses and trade offs must be made when
human intervention takes place and waters are removed from the system.
Environmental interests, for example, require fluctuations between high and
low levels to preserve diversity. Seemingly >wasted,= the infrequent very
high waters do, in fact, serve a purpose by inundating less frequently
wetted areas and renewing habitat for their biotic occupants. Major outflows
from the Great Lakes provide needed fresh water input to fisheries as far
away as the Gulf of Maine.

*       There is uncertainty and a lack of adequate information about
withdrawals of groundwater which constitute about five percent of all
withdrawals in the basin. This is a matter of considerable concern and
importance to a significant portion of the basin's population who rely on

*       There do not appear to be any active proposals for major diversion
projects either into or out of the basin at the present time. There is
little reason to believe that such projects will become economically,
environmentally and socially feasible in the foreseeable future. There are
not any active proposals for any smaller diversions into or out of the Great
Lakes basin at this time.

*       There are not, at present, significant removals of water from the
Great Lakes basin by truck. There is no trade in water from the Great Lakes
by marine tanker, although the Nova Group in 1998 did seek a permit to ship
600 million liters of water from Lake Superior to Asia annually. Moreover,
despite the increase that has occurred in the market for bottled water, the
volume of water leaving the Great Lakes basin in bottles is not significant,
nor is the amount of ballast water leaving the basin.

*       There is uncertainty with respect to future demand for water within
the basin, since it is not possible to predict whether the current trend to
slower growth in water withdrawals in the region will continue.

*       Mounting evidence of the potential for climate change adds to the
uncertainty of future supplies to the Great Lakes that will affect their
levels and flows. Most models suggest that global warming would lower Great
Lakes levels and outflows. Climate change also has the potential to increase
the demand for water, both inside and outside of the basin.

*       Existing institutions and processes in the basin have provided
mechanisms to deal with water use issues. It is important to retain and
build on those strengths. The Great Lakes Charter is an effective
arrangement among the Great Lakes states and the provinces of Ontario and
Quebec that focuses them on water resource issues. Although not legally
binding, it fosters cooperation amongst the states and provinces and
requires that they notify each other of major new or increased diversions or
consumptive uses.

*       The Great Lakes Charter's trigger amount for consideration of
significant proposed new diversions and consumptive uses is too high. The
Great Lakes Charter does not require the consent of all Great lakes states
and provinces before allowing a new diversion or consumptive use to proceed,
does not establish criteria for when such consent should be given or
withheld and does not provide for public involvement during the consultation

*       International trade law obligations, including the provisions of the
Canada - United States Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade
Agreement and World Trade Organization agreements, including the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), do not appear to prevent Canada and
the United States from protecting their water resources and preserving the
integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. Canada and the United States
cannot be compelled by trade laws to endanger the waters of the Great Lakes

*       Because there is uncertainty about the availability of Great Lakes
water in the future due to previously experienced variations in climatic
conditions as well as potential climate change, uncertainty about the
demands that may be placed on that water, uncertainty about the reliability
of existing data, and uncertainty about the extent to which removals and
consumptive uses harm, perhaps irreparably, the integrity of the Basin
ecosystem, caution should be used in managing water to protect the resource
for the future.

Over the next six months, the IJC will conduct public hearings to receive
comments on its interim report and will consult extensively with governments
and other interested parties concerning the report and its Phase II efforts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
glin-announce is hosted by the Great Lakes Information Network:
To search the glin-announce archives:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *