Canadian Arctic Waters Threatened


On July 1st, 2005, the premiers and governors of the provinces and states surrounding the Great Lakes signed an agreement committing to the long-term protection of those waters. Of significance in that document is the commitment to not allow water diversions out of the Great Lakes Basin. Conspicuous in its absence however, is any wording specifically referring to water diversions into the Basin – clearly implying that such will be allowed. This means that the door remains open for more diverting of Arctic waters away from the Arctic Watershed, across the Continental height-of-land and into the Great Lakes Basin. (Precedents to this have already been established with the Ogoki and Longlac Diversions into Lake Superior.)

Of major significance is the fact that the Chicago Diversion is not subject to the conditions of the Great Lakes Agreement, owing to a previous United States Supreme Court decision, which allows the State of Illinois (Chicago) to divert more than 2 billion gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan. Since Lakes Michigan and Huron share a common surface elevation, in effect water withdrawn from Lake Michigan is also being withdrawn from Lake Huron. Lake Michigan being completely within U.S. territory, however, is not subject to previous international agreements with Canada.

In recent years the seasonal low water levels in the Lake Huron-Michigan Basin have reached the record low set in 1964. If the present low-water trend continues, new lows will be reached and surpassed, seriously affecting the integrity of all associated ecosystems.

The following points are therefore of significance:

  1. The “Great Lakes Agreement” prohibits diversions out of the Great Lakes Basin and controls diversions within the Basin.
  2. The State of Illinois (Chicago) is not subject to the provisions of the “Agreement” and can therefore continue to divert out of the Great Lakes Basin.
  3. The “Agreement” cannot be expected to function without the inclusion of the State of Illinois. Indeed, it seems unfair to control smaller diversion proposals, as long as such a huge diversion is allowed to continue unchallenged.
  4. There is no provision in the “Agreement” prohibiting diversion(s) from the Arctic Watershed into the Great Lakes Basin.
  5. While the “Great Lakes Agreement” attempts to protect Basin water levels in perpetuity, it is extremely doubtful if this can be accomplished without extraordinary measures being taken, i.e. diversions into the Basin from the Arctic Watershed.

The Algonquin Ecosystem provides an excellent example of “ecosystem interdependence”, and illustrates how critical it is to maintain “100-year average” levels within the Great Lakes Basin. It also begs the question, “How can we accomplish this without inflicting irreparable damage upon the Arctic Watershed?”