ALBANY, New York – New York State will join seven other Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces in a formal effort to protect and improve the water resources of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.

Legislation authorizing New York’s participation in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact was signed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer on March 4, 2008.

New York Governor David Paterson was sworn in today, replacing the former governor, who resigned in disgrace last week.

“The Great Lakes and their bays and tributaries contain approximately 18 percent of the world’s supply of freshwater, and 90 percent of the United States’ supply of fresh surface water,” said Paterson on Friday, when he was still New York Lt. Governor and governor designate.

The Compact would prohibit most new and increased diversions of water from the Basin, while preserving existing diversions, withdrawals, uses, rights and agreements.

It would establish “regional review” procedures for any new or increased consumptive uses of at least five million gallons per day in any 90 day period and implement water conservation and efficiency programs by each member state.

The Compact would provide for the creation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council, consisting of the governors of the eight Great Lakes states.

“Unfortunately, water levels in the Great Lakes have seen drastic declines in the last decade, and it is vitally important that we protect and conserve this essential water resource,” Paterson said. “The Great Lakes Compact demonstrates the commitment of all of the Great Lakes states to work together to achieve that goal.”

In 2001, the governors of the eight Great Lakes states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and the premiers of Ontario and Quebec signed an agreement to develop and implement a new common, resource-based conservation standard for the Great Lakes Basin. After several years of negotiation, the Great Lakes Compact was developed.

In order for the Compact to take effect, each of the eight Great Lakes states must pass legislation ratifying it, and then the U.S. Congress must consent to the signed Compact. New York is now the fourth state to approve the Compact, following approvals by Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana.

The water surface area of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River and connecting channels covers 95,000 square miles in the eight states and two Canadian provinces, and the drainage area of the Basin covers an additional 200,000 square miles.

Since only about one percent of the water in the Great Lakes is renewed or replaced by rain and tributary inflow each year, a multi-state agreement regulating various withdrawals and diversions is viewed as an important step to preserving this natural resource.

State Senator George Maziarz, a Republican who represents a district bordering Lake Ontario, said, “Joining this multi-state and multi-province effort is the right thing to do for our environment, for our communities, and for our future.”

Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert Sweeney, a Democrat, wrote the bill authorizing New York’s entry into the Compact. “Over 40 percent of our State lies within the Great Lakes Basin and this provides us with an important environmental resource and economic driver,” he said. “The Compact is designed as proactive legislation to shelter and preserve the Great Lakes.”

New York environmentalists approve of their state’s participation in the Compact.

Derek Stack, executive director of Great Lakes United, said, “Today, New York demonstrates that the spirit of cooperation between the Great Lakes states and provinces is thriving, and reaffirms the value of protecting the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. Now we must work hard to ensure that the Compact moves swiftly to approval in those states where years of careful negotiation has been held hostage by narrow-minded political agendas.”

Albert Caccese, executive director of Audubon New York, said, “Protecting the water of the Great Lakes is critical for the long term restoration of the Great Lakes ecosystem and for the revitalization of the upstate New York economy. The Great Lakes Compact will allow the region to maintain control of its waters as demand for fresh water continues to grow throughout the nation and worldwide.”

New York Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Pete Grannis said, “The Great Lakes are among America’s greatest natural resources and they must be protected from excessive demands. The Compact is an integral tool that will establish proper management practices and standards so that the benefits these waters provide will continue to be available for future generations.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.