Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

December 2, 2006

A Brief History of the Great Lakes Charter

1985. In response to the 1982 Wyoming coal slurry proposal, the Ogallala Aquifer regeneration study and other “Grand Proposals” to divert Great Lakes water, the Great Lakes Charter of 1985 is signed by all ten Great Lakes Governors and Premiers. The Charter — a good faith agreement — commits the Governors and Premiers to:

  • Give prior notice to and consult with each other before approving any new or increased diversions or consumptive uses over 5 million gallons per day average over any 30-day period;
  • Manage and regulate all new withdrawals that resulted in a new or increased diversion or consumptive use of Great Lakes water over 2 million gallons per day average over any 30-day period; and,
  • Collect and share comparable information on all Great Lakes water withdrawals of 100,000 gallons per day average over any 30-day period.

1986. Two versions of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA) are passed by the U.S. House and the Senate. The 1986 WRDA is a large omnibus bill that, among other things, authorizes for construction and/or study 270 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects. Congress inserts a provision (Section 1109) that prohibits all new diversions of Great Lakes water out of the Great Lakes States unless approval is given by each of the Great Lakes Governors. In addition, Section 1109 would “…prohibit any Federal agency from undertaking any studies that would involve the transfer of Great Lakes water for any purpose for use outside the Great Lakes basin,” effectively preventing any future studies similar to the 1982 Ogallala Aquifer recharge study.

The House and Senate versions of this bill are sent to a House and Senate conference committee. The committee is charged with resolving the numerous differences (primarily differing spending authorizations) between the House and Senate versions of the WRDA. During the course of these negotiations, Section 1109 is revised to prohibit all new diversions out of the Great Lakes basin unless approval is given by each of the Great Lakes Governors.

The conference committee’s version of the WRDA bill, including Section 1109, is passed by both chambers and signed by the President. The legislation does not include any standard or process to be used when reviewing proposals to divert Great Lakes water, nor any process for appealing any such decision.

1987. Water Resources Management Committee (created by the Great Lakes Charter of 1985) releases a report entitled “Managing the Waters of the Great Lakes Basin” (pdf).

May, 1999. At the request of the Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Protection Fund provides the Governors with a commissioned legal report (the “Lochhead Report”) describing the current legal framework governing management of the Great Lakes waters. The report also highlights the potential legal vulnerabilities of the current framework, including the lack of a standard to be used when the Governors exercise their WRDA authority over diversion proposals. The Lochhead report also provides recommendations for addressing those vulnerabilities.

October, 1999. At their Leadership Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers release a joint statement committing to update the legal framework governing Great Lakes water management to ensure that authority for managing the Great Lakes remains with the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers. In their statement they specifically pledged to:

  • Develop a new agreement that will bind the States and Provinces more closely to collectively manage the Great Lakes.
  • Develop a new common standard against which water projects will be reviewed.
  • Secure funds to develop a better base of Great Lakes water use data.

February, 2000. The IJC (International Joint Commission) releases its report entitled Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes: Final Report to the Governments of Canada and the United States. Among their many recommendations, the IJC recommends that “…[T]he Great Lakes States and Ontario and Quebec, in carrying out their responsibilities under the Great Lakes Charter, should develop….the standards and the procedures … that would be used to make decisions concerning removals or major new or increased consumptive uses.”

September, 2000. The U.S. Congress passes an amendment to Section 1109 of the 1986 WRDA, adding a prohibition of exports of Great Lakes water unless approval is given by all eight Great Lakes Governors. In addition, the amendment “… encourage[s] the Great Lakes States, in consultation with the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, to develop and implement a mechanism that provides a common conservation standard embodying the principles of water conservation and resource improvement for making decisconcerning the withdrawal and use of water from the Great Lakes Basin.”

Decmber, 2000. The Governors and Premiers Water Management Working Group releases for a 60-day public comment period a draft Annex to the Great Lakes Charter of 1985. Substantive revisions are made to the Annex.

June 18, 2001. In Niagara Falls, New York, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers together sign the Great Lakes Charter Annex of 2001 (“Annex 2001”).

December 13, 2005. The Great Lakes — St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (“Agreement”) (pdf) is signed by all ten Great Lakes Governors and Premiers. In addition, The Great Lakes — St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (pdf) is endorsed by the eight Great Lakes Governors who urge its passage by the eight Great Lakes legislature, and who also urge that the U.S. Congress provide its consent to the compact.

Source: GREAT LAKES WATER MANAGEMENT CHRONOLOGY KEY EVENTS (pdf)

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