Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Water Wars


Water and Stones Vol. 9 - No. 9
September 2004
Environmental Advocates of New York's Statewide Bulletin Board

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A growing body of scientific evidence points to water scarcity – or, more accurately, water mismanagement – as a top environmental and social issue of the 21st Century. In August, two major news stories punctuated this looming threat. The Pacific Institute, a leading California think tank, released a report showing that U.S. businesses have failed to prepare for inevitable shortages of fresh water over the next few decades. And a conference in Stockholm of 50 international organizations and 1,200 water experts from more than 100 countries warned that future water wars between nations are becoming almost inevitable. A major component of the problem, according to many scientists and policy-makers, is that highly industrialized, water-rich countries and regions don’t understand their vulnerability. One such region is the Great Lakes Basin, parts of eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that make up a watershed that is home to 20 percent of the world’s available fresh surface water, and 95 percent of the freshwater in the United States. In 1998, the basin received a major wake-up call when a Canadian company acquired a permit to ship a million gallons of Lake Superior water a day to Asia. The permit was eventually rescinded, but the incident served notice that the waters of the Great Lakes are not necessarily secure.

In fact, scientists who have studied the watershed say that withdrawals or diversions amounting to more than 1 percent annually will cause Great Lakes water levels to drop. In June, 2001 the eight governors and their Canadian counterparts met in Niagara Falls, New York and signed a document called Annex 2001 – an outline for amending the Great Lakes Charter, the international agreement that regulates water issues in the basin. Among the principles they agreed to were holding to a set of strict regulatory standards that would give preference to conservation methods in preventing any net water loss, preclude individual or cumulative impacts to the quantity or quality of the waters, and improve the natural resources of the basin.

A draft of the new agreement was released for public comment in July. Although many of the details are very good, the document needs some revision.

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