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UPDATE: Multiplicity of threats to the Great Lakes

Photo credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA

Photo credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA

The Council of Canadians is profoundly concerned about the numerous threats to the Great Lakes.

In her 2007 book Blue Covenant, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote, “The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s freshwater and supply one in three Canadians and one in seven Americans – forty five million people – with their daily water use. The Great Lakes are overextended. Every day four trillion litres of water are pumped from the Great Lakes. At the same time thinner icepacks are causing increased evaporation. However, only 1 percent of the Great Lakes water is naturally renewed each year. Consequently, water levels are dropping – sometimes dramatically.”

Some of the threats include:

Increased demand
Barlow adds, “The University of Southern Illinois reports that population and industry in the Chicago area alone will grow so quickly in the next twenty years that demand for water will increase by 30 percent. In fact, some communities on Lake Michigan’s west coast are pumping so much groundwater through wells they are now drawing down on the lake itself, states the US Geological Survey.”

Climate change
A major new report by International Upper Great Lakes Study Board released in December 2009 found that climate change has already caused a discernible drop in the water levels of the Great Lakes. The report, that involved more than 100 scientists and engineers, estimates that Lake Huron and Lake Michigan have fallen about a quarter metre relative to Lake Erie over the last fifty years with 40-74 percent of that reduction due to climate change.

Acid rain
The Michigan Messenger recently reported that, “BP’s Whiting oil refinery, on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana, is the nation’s fourth largest refinery and is in the process of a $3.8 billion dollar expansion project aimed at boosting its capacity to process oil from the Canadian tar sands.” That article highlights, “The plant’s un-permitted modifications have resulted in a significant increase in nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter less than 10 microns emissions at a major pollution source in an area that already has very poor air quality, EPA said. The agency warned that these emissions contribute to acid rain…”

The Canwest News Service reported in October 2008 that, “The development of a pipeline network and refineries around the Great Lakes to process Alberta bitumen ‘could cause irreversible’ environmental damage to the region, says a new report that traces the tendrils of Alberta’s oilsands developments across the continent. There are currently 17 refinery projects either being ‘considered, planned, applied for, approved or developed’ around the Great Lakes, according to a report (commissioned by the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre), How the Oil Sands Got to the Great Lakes. The report warns that little is known about the environmental impact on the Great Lakes given the level of greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption that comes with the refining process.”

Air pollution
The Globe and Mail reported in October 2009 that, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed tough new measures to reduce the health toll from air pollution around the Great Lakes by forcing lake freighters to stop burning dirty bunker fuel (a thick, gooey asphalt-like material laced with impurities such as sulphur) by 2015. (But) the Canadian embassy in Washington has (in a letter last month) quietly asked the EPA to weaken the measures, arguing that they could harm trade. It wants ships to be allowed to continue using the high-polluting fuel and to instead install smokestack scrubbers that would clean up their emissions. The Canadian recommendation, if accepted, could delay the clean-air measure for years, because the technology for the scrubbers does not yet exist.”

Quarries and mining
The Globe and Mail reported in July 2009 that, “In a controversial ruling, the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) has approved a plan by a U.S. construction and paving company to establish a quarry along a rugged section of Lake Superior shoreline near Wawa. …The area sports …water so pristine that it can be drunk directly by dipping a cup into the lake. …The board’s decision has angered environmentalists, who say it opens the way for a rush to develop quarries on the last, largely unspoiled area of Great Lakes, the isolated northern shore of Lake Superior.”

The Lake Superior News reported in May 2010 on Bamoos Lake – a lake in Ontario that faces destruction through the Schedule 2 exemption of the Fisheries Act. This exemption allows mining companies to dump their mining tailings (toxic waste) into freshwater lakes. The article highlighted that, “The proposal by Marathon PGM Corporation to dump tailings directly into Bamoos Lake represents a first for Ontario and for the entire Great Lakes Basin.”

Inaction on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
In June 2009, the CBC reported that, “Canada and the United States will renegotiate the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Globe and Mail added that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, “agreed to update a key agreement to protect the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement — a pact which hasn’t been touched since 1987 — will be re-opened for negotiation between the two countries. …The pact lays out the rights and obligations of both countries for the Great Lakes and a portion of the St. Lawrence River that straddles the border, particularly their obligation not to pollute boundary waters.”

By January 2010, the Canwest News Service had reported that, “Nearly seven months ago, Herb Gray (the Canadian chairman of the International Joint Commission that oversees transboundary waters) watched as Clinton and Cannon …pledged to redraft and bolster a decades-old treaty aimed at protecting the Great Lakes from environmental harm. This week, he expressed frustration that the ‘very fine words’ spoken by Clinton and Cannon at the bridge ceremony in June had not yet led to the launch of formal negotiations between the two countries to modernize and strengthen the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.”

Insufficient funding for Great Lakes clean-up
While the government acknowledges that “millions of Canadians depend on the Great Lakes for their drinking water” and says that “cleaning up the Great Lakes is a key objective of our Government’s Action Plan for Clean Water”, in its March 2010 federal budget it allocated a mere $8 million a year to Environment Canada to “implement its action plan to protect the Great Lakes”. In contrast, at the end of 2009, the US Congress authorized $475 million to be spent on cleaning up the Great Lakes. In February 2010, US President Barack Obama proposed another $300 million into this program.

Bulk water exports
As recently as October 2009, the Montreal Economic Institute proposed a plan for $20 billion in annual bulk water sales to the United States. That plan involved building six pumping stations in Quebec to bring the water uphill, then south along the Bell River, ending up in Val d’Or. From there it would be pumped overland to the upper Ottawa River, which begins in Quebec and flows west to the Ontario border before turning south to Lake Timiskaming. The Ottawa Citizen reported that, “The plan to export water south from the upper lakes such as Michigan and Huron would be taking water from above the level of Niagara Falls. The St. Lawrence, where the proposed new water supply would arrive, is hundreds of feet lower in elevation, and thousands of kilometres away.”

Barlow also notes in Blue Covenant that, “In (1998 in) Ontario, Nova Group of Sault Ste. Marie obtained a license from Mike Harris’ Conservative government to export six hundred million litres of water a year from Lake Superior by tanker to Asia. This was met with a firestorm of protest from the Council of Canadians, communities around the Great Lakes on both sides of the border and from then secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who rightly claimed that the United States had shared jurisdiction with Canada over Lake Superior. The license was revoked.”

The Great Lakes Compact
A Food and Water Watch media release in June 2009 states, “Representative Bart Stupak (Democrat-Michigan) introduced House Resolution 551 addressing loopholes in the Great Lakes Compact that allow for the commercial extraction of water from the lakes as long as it is placed in containers 5.7 gallons or smaller. …In addition to allowing the packaging and sale of Great Lakes water as a ‘product’ it also exempts bottled water, thereby leaving the door open to potential privatization attempts of the Great Lakes.”

Maude Barlow wrote in Blue Covenant that, “water extraction for bottled water is concentrated near already-stressed water systems such as the Great Lakes.” She also noted that, “in Michigan, Sweetwater Alliance and Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation have sued Nestle for trying to capture and export Great Lakes water through a pipeline it built on a private ranch it bought next to the lake.”

Cap and trade
In April 2009 the CEO of Climate Exchange PLC presented the idea of applying the flawed model of carbon cap-and-trade markets to water. The head of the UK-based company that has made millions facilitating carbon trading wants to take this scheme that has failed to reduce emissions and apply it to water extraction rights from the Great Lakes, according to an interview titled, ‘Water cap and trade,’ posted on Global Dashboard: Notes from the Future.

Maude Barlow and Wenonah Hauter stated in a media release that, “This notion of a sort of cap-and-trade system for water rights to decrease water use is even more far-fetched than buying and selling carbon emission permits to reduce pollution and slow down climate change.”

US Coast Guard weapons testing
Barlow also notes in Blue Covenant a campaign the Council of Canadians actively pursued. “In 2006, the US government announced plans to have the US coast guard patrol the Great Lakes using machine guns mounted on their vessels and revealed that it had created thirty-four permanent live-fire training zones along the Great Lakes from where it had already conducted a number of automatic weapons drills, firing three thousand lead bullets each time into the lake. Due to fierce opposition, the Bush administration has temporarily called off these drills but is clearly asserting US authority over what has been in the past considered joint waters.”

Invasive species and chemicals
The Windsor Star in November 2007 reported Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow saying, “The Great Lakes are in crisis now. With the increases in the introduction of invasive species, only three per cent of the species in the lakes are native now. We’re destroying wetlands. There are 360 chemicals to be found in the Great Lakes…”

Climate change, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2535
Insufficient funding for Great Lakes cleanup, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3028
Acid rain, http://michiganmessenger.com/38164/bp-refinery-threatens-great-lakes-ecosystem
Refineries, http://www.greatlakesdirectory.org/Canada/Oct.0908
Bulk water exports, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=1902
Great Lakes Compact, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=808
Cap and trade, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=340
Air pollution, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2012
Quarries, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=1544
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2648


NEWS: Environmental commissioner says sewage threatens the Great Lakes
ACTION ALERT: Stop the shipment of radioactive components through the Great Lakes
NEWS: Canada urged to ban oil and gas drilling in the Great Lakes
NEWS: Pipelines threaten the Great Lakes
VIEW: Tar sands refineries threaten the Great Lakes, says Israelson

For more on the threat of radioactive shipments on the Great Lakes, please see these blogs: http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?s=great+lakes+%2B+radioactive.