9 - No. 9
THE GREEN SHEET
Environmental Advocates of New York's Statewide Bulletin Board
Copies of The Green Sheet can be downloaded free of charge at
The Green Sheet.
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The permit was eventually rescinded, but the incident served notice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.