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Linda Diebel, Toronto Star
July 22, 2008
A pact designed to preserve the Great Lakes is in reality a “slippery slope” that threatens severe harm to the world’s largest body of fresh water, a top U.S. environmental lawyer has warned Canadians.
“In effect, a precedent is being set, in that it allows for the commercialization of water. You are privatizing it,” James Olson said yesterday of an agreement among eight Great Lakes states now before the U.S. Congress and linked to Ontario and Quebec through a side deal.
Among other concerns, Olson criticizes an exemption in the Great Lakes Compact allowing water to be removed by private industry as long as it’s not “bulk diversion” — in other words, restricted to containers no more than 20 litres in Canada or 5.7 gallons in the U.S., with no limit on the number of containers a business, such as a bottler, can sell.
That means an important legal precedent has been set giving water a “product” exemption from the diversion ban on Great Lakes water at the heart of the deal. It is a product to be exploited for private gain, and not to be recognized as a public trust.
While Olson is worried about the gradual loss of water levels through the activities of, say, bottling companies, under current limitations, he predicts these quantitative restrictions will turn out to be mere formalities destined to be overturned in court challenges.
“This marks a significant step forward in safeguarding these waters on the U.S. side of the basin,” Michael Wilson, Canadian ambassador to the U.S., said July 11. “It is our hope that the U.S. Congress will move quickly in providing its consent to the compact.”
However, Meera Karunananthan, water resources analyst for the Council of Canadians, fears that the agreement further erodes the responsibility of the federal government to safeguard Canadian water.
“From a Canadian perspective, two agencies are mandated to protect our sovereignty over water,” she said, referring to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act of 1909 and the International Joint Commission, the binational referee that regulates disputes.
“Those agencies are being gradually eroded, along with Canadian sovereignty,” she said.
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