Who Owns the Lakes?

A recent editorial in the Chronicle Journal called for a scientific determination of the impacts of Waukesha Wisconsin’s proposal to replace water from its drying underground aquifer with water from Lake Michigan. Waukesha is the first community entirely outside the Great Lakes Basin to apply to draw water from the Great Lakes under the Great Lakes Compact; the decision will set a precedent. The Great Lakes provide life and livelihood for more than 40 million people in Canada and United States and already face serious threats due to over-extraction, Climate Change and pollution.

The Great Lakes, which provide life and livelihood for more than 40 million people in Canada and United States face serious threats due to over-extraction, Climate Change and pollution. North Americans are the highest consumers of water per capita in the world. According to a 2004 Great Lakes Commission study, communities around the Great Lakes Basin pump 850 billion gallons (3.2 trillions litres) of water out of the Lakes and the St. Lawrence River every day.

Close to 2 billion gallons a day are not returned to the watershed. Cities like Chicago are pumping out so much water they’re reversing the flow of Lake Michigan and decreasing water tables as far away as Port Huron and Georgian Bay. A recent Statistics Canada study showed renewable water yield in southern Ontario has declined 8.5% in just four decades.

Loopholes in the uneven patchwork of legislation governing the Great Lakes allow bottling companies like Nestle, Pepsi and Coca Cola to draw large amounts of water from groundwater around the Lakes for export. Scientists warn Great Lakes water levels could drop by another two feet, particularly threatening Lake Huron and Michigan.

The amount of water flowing out of Lake Superior at the St. Mary’s River would need to be increased by 50% for them to be restored to previous levels. As demands for water continue to grow, the supply diminishes. Building on the efforts of countless organizations over the past several decades, we need to take immediate, cohesive action to conserve and protect our Great Lakes for future generations.

The Council of Canadians, the largest citizen organization in Canada considers access to clean, safe water to be a human right and calls for the recognition of the Great Lakes as a commons, public trust and protected bioregion. In answer to the question ‘Who owns the Lakes,’ common principles would establish they belong to no one but should be shared equitably by all who live around them and protected for the common good of future generations. The establishment of a Great Lakes Basin Commons will require the full commitment and participation of all levels of government, people and nations living around the Lakes. Together we can save the Great Lakes. The local Chapter of the Council of Canadians’ Blue Planet Committee and its partners invite you to join us in our efforts to promote the right to water and the protection of out lakes and waterways.  

The Great Lakes (image from google maps).

The Great Lakes (image from Google maps).

Janice Horgos
Chair of the Blue Planet Committee
Council of Canadians Thunder Bay Chapter
horgosj@yahoo. com

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