Monday night, a public hearing was held in Buffalo at Buffalo State’s Great Lakes Field Station to collect public opinion on how New York is planning to implement the Compact, which will both protect Great Lakes water from diversions and require everyone living and doing business in the Great Lakes region to do much better job of conserving it. Public comments continue to be accepted till August 14th.
Last year, the historic Great Lakes St Lawrence River Sustainable Water Resources Compact was passed in all eight Great Lakes states and Congress. But what good is a plan if it just sits there on a shelf? After Congress and former President Bush passed the legislation, it became the job of each state to implement this landmark compact. In New York State, the Great Lakes Basin Advisory Council has been charged with the task of recommending implementation strategies to the state government. The GLBAC were the hosts of the hearing.
Since the Compact been effective in New York State in December of 2008, the GLBAC has been charged with determining what the Compact really means in New York. At what level should water withdrawals from Lakes Erie and Ontario, and their watersheds, be regulated? 100,000 gallons per day? 10,000 gallons per day? With 48% of New York State falling within the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River watershed, there is a lot of territory and users to monitor. What should the penalty be if permitted users, or those without permits, are in violation?
The GLBAC has decided to keep the 100,000 gallons per day limit that is set out in the Compact as the threshold. Any user diverting less than this amount can do so without ramifications. Also, the Compact sets no financial penalties for violating a permit. Several members of the public questioned these two provisions in the GLBAC recommendations. Could New York State implement a stronger limit with more severe consequences for violations? The Compact says individual states can implement stricter limits, why wasn’t New York doing so?
Other comments, specifically from Brian Smith of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, addressed the GLBAC’s recommendations on water conservation and efficiency measures for those of us living and working in the Great Lakes watershed- including the entire city of Buffalo. As they stand in the current report, these provisions are voluntary. According to Smith, “the biggest key for these measures to be truly effective is for them to be mandatory and the way they are written they can be taken as voluntary.” If the Great Lakes region is going to impose limitations on the way others want to use our water, we can’t be wasteful and irresponsible with precious freshwater ourselves.
If you were unable to attend last night’s public meeting, you can still voice your opinion to the GLBAC and New York State’s decision makers. The GLBAC’s report Our Great Lakes Water Resources: Conserving and Protecting Our Water Today for Use Tomorrow is open to written public comment until August 14, 2009. You can find a full version of the draft report at: www.dec.ny.gov/lands/56095.html. Public comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to: Great Lakes Basin Advisory Council Report c/o NYSDEC Region 9, 270 Michigan Avenue, Buffalo, New York 14203.
Our friends at Citizens Campaign for the Environment have identified key points they are concerned about, you can review CCE’s action alert here.
It is important that we continue the success of the Great Lakes Compact. As significant as its passage was though, it will be a shallow victory if New York, and it’s Great Lakes cities, industries and citizens, do not remain dedicated and do our best to protect Great Lakes water to the fullest extent.