Negotiators reflect on Great Lakes Compact 15 years later
Some of the people who worked to draft an international agreement to protect the Great Lakes gathered at the University of Michigan in December to mark the 15th anniversary of the approval of the Great Lakes Compact .
Twenty-five years ago, a Canadian company called Nova Group heard about water shortages in some Asian countries. They saw an opportunity. Why not fill up tanker ships with Great Lakes water and make some money?
David de Launay was working with the government of Ontario when the Nova Group came to the provincial government with its business plan.
“They could get a permit from the Ontario government to take a whole bunch of water off of Lake Superior and ship it to China.”
The plan was to export 150 million gallons of water a year. Ontario didn’t have a law to prevent it, so a permit was issued.
People around the Great Lakes were displeased, to say the least.
The eight Great Lakes states and the provinces on the other side of the border were not sure what they could do.
“What is your ability to protect this resource? And there was like one line in federal law that said the governors have to agree to any diversion. As I recall, that’s about it,” said Kate Bartter, who was working with the Ohio governor at the time.
Ohio had consulted with lawyers with expertise in water rights, but this was beyond their experience, given the complications of the several regional governments and the two federal governments.
The Great Lakes states, Ontario and Quebec began negotiating.
There were several interests who had a stake, including business and the several tribes that had fishing rights and treaty agreements with the federal governments.
Todd Ambs worked for Wisconsin during the negotiations. He said getting an agreement took some effort.
“Over 100 in-person day-long and evening meetings, 400 conference calls, 92 drafts.”
It also took a willingness to protect the lakes and that was agreed upon by all parties.
It was incredibly complex because the agreement had to be strong enough to get each governmental body, including Congress and the Canadian Parliament to pass the Great Lakes Compact exactly as it was written. No changes or amendments could be made.
The agreement received final approval in 2008, a decade after the Nova Group first proposed exporting the water.