Great Lakes Compact Passes the U.S. House, International Coalition of Water Advocates Calls for Additional Protections for Great

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Jon Keesecker or Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch (202) 683-2500

Food and Water Watch

Great Lakes Compact Passes the U.S. House, International Coalition of Water Advocates Calls for Additional Protections for Great

WASHINGTON - On Tuesday, the U.S. House passed the Great Lakes Compact, which aims to ban diversion of Great Lakes water. Hailed as a landmark conservation bill by many, the Compact will ultimately fail to stop corporations from withdrawing and selling water as a commodity. Despite efforts launched by an international coalition lead by Food & Water Watch and the Council of Canadians to ensure a more comprehensive agreement, the Great Lakes Compact passed the U.S. House yesterday by a vote of 390 to 25.

An agreement between the 8 states of the Great Lakes Basin, the Compact lays out guidelines for taking water from major supplies in that area for use by large-scale projects and private enterprise. Yet many of the exceptions outlined in the Compact are bad for consumers and the environment.

"The Compact could have been a great step forward to protect the Great Lakes," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "However, there are serious concerns with the exceptions laid out in the Compact, such as those allowing the packaging and sale of Great Lakes water as a ‘product' for private gain and explicitly exempting bottled water. Furthermore, the Compact fails to incorporate the Public Trust doctrine that protects Great Lakes basin waters from private export and sale and protects these waters from claims to the water as a product under international trade laws."

The Public Trust doctrine affirms that water is a public resource that must be managed by the state governments in trust for the benefit of citizens, yet it was omitted from the Compact despite calls from citizens to include it. "This is a very important concept," said Maude Barlow, founder of the Council of Canadians and renowned activist, "The doctrine was born out of the recognition that publicly owned natural resources are essential to meet the basic needs of all citizens and communities, regardless of economic status."

While the Compact aims to ban large-scale diversions from the Great Lakes, it excludes water in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons and "water as a product in any size container" from that ban, leaving it vulnerable to packaging by commercial interests. "As long as the water is considered a product, it establishes a precedent that water can be grabbed by profit-hungry corporations who want to claim it is a product not subject to the Compact," said Hauter. "This undermines the very purpose of the Compact and creates a dangerous precedent for exporting water in the U.S., in this instance from the largest body of freshwater in North America. The diversion ban is historic, but it is undermined by the product exemption and therefore further action is needed to protect Michigan's water."

Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan and Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio have led the effort in Congress to close the Compact's loopholes. Representative Kucinich introduced H.R. 6814 in August, which would amend the 1986 Water Resources Development Act in order to strengthen its public trust doctrine and limit the withdrawal of Great Lakes water for sale.

 

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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer rights organization based in Washington, D.C. that challenges the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources. Visit www.foodandwaterwatch.org.

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