Legislation Passed to Preserve and Protect the Great Lakes

February 27, 2008
Watering the lawn and washing the car are tasks that we usually take for granted. However, in Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and other states in the South, Southwest and Great Plains, a green lawn and sparkling clean car are often luxuries. Drought and drought-like conditions have affected many states as snow and/or rainfall levels have dropped significantly, leaving fresh water supplies at low levels.

Fortunately, New Yorkers have not been faced with these problems. Our rainfall levels have been good and our snowfall, with or without "lake-effect," seems to be never- ending. We are also fortunate to have two of the Great Lakes – Erie and Ontario – on our border, comprising more than 750 miles of New York shoreline. The Great Lakes, which contain 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water and 95 percent of the North American supply of surface freshwater, represent an invaluable natural resource for all New Yorkers and our neighbors living within and along the Great Lakes Basin’s boundaries in the U.S. and Canada.

As a member of the New York Coalition of Great Lakes Legislators, I can assure you that the need to preserve and protect the Great Lakes is of utmost importance. That focus has been sharpening recently as population growth and commercial activity increase, pollution and invasive species continue to affect water quality, and water diversion projects, especially those outside of the Basin, are brought to the table. Regional collaboration is necessary to secure the viability of our Great Lakes and to make certain that no Great Lakes water ends up in a swimming pool in Phoenix or on a restaurant table on another continent.

Toward that end, an agreement, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, was developed following years of negotiations. The compact has been signed by the governors of all the Great Lakes states – New York, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and the premiers of two Canadian provinces - Ontario and Quebec. The compact must now be approved by the all eight state legislatures and then Congress and the corresponding legislative bodies in Canada. In New York, I have been one of the prime sponsors of the measure that codifies the Compact into New York Law. I am pleased to report that this legislation has now been passed by both houses of the Legislature and has been transmitted to the Governor for his expected signature.

The major objectives of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact include: a ban on new water diversions from the basin, allowing only limited and strictly regulated exceptions; a consistent standard to review proposed uses of Great Lakes water; encouragement of lasting economic development balanced with sustainable water use; regional goals for establishing and monitoring water conservation and efficiency programs; and improving and sharing technical data to improve decision-making by all parties.

All in all, the Compact is an historic agreement that is designed to protect the waters of the Great Lakes now and in the future.