Senate approves Great Lakes compact

Lake Superior
Lake Superior, along the coast in Duluth.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The Senate voted Friday to ratify a compact to prevent the diversion of water from the Great Lakes, quickly approving legislation sought by the region's governors worried that thirsty places would covet one of the world's largest sources of fresh water.

The Senate passed the measure without objection, and it now awaits action in the House. President Bush has said he will sign it into law, and both major presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have said they support it.

"Senate passage of this compact will help us protect the Great Lakes from water diversions and preserve this invaluable resource for future generations," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the bill's chief sponsor.

The agreement, negotiated by eight Great Lakes states, prevents countries or remote states from tapping into the lakes from their natural drainage basin with rare exceptions. In addition, states would be required to regulate their own large-scale water use and promote conservation. Michigan was the final state to approve the pact last month.

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Sen. George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican and co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force with Levin, said the best way to preserve and protect the lakes is "by passing and enacting the Great Lakes Compact and keeping control of the lakes in the hands of the states that surround them and value them the most."

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said the compact "will protect the health of these precious bodies of freshwater, preventing unnecessary and dangerous diversions of Great Lakes waters. I know the people of Wisconsin feel strongly about the importance of preserving the lakes for future generations."

Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat, said the compact "would preserve and protect one of our national treasures for us and future generations."

The National Wildlife Federation urged the House to quickly follow the Senate's lead, but that will have to wait until next month, when Congress returns from its August recess. The compact was approved by the House Judiciary Committee this week.

"It's time to seal the deal and protect our lakes, our drinking water, our economy and our way of life," said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the federation's Great Lakes office.

Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat who represents northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, has questioned the compact because it allows bottled water to be shipped from the region.

Cameron Davis, president of Alliance for the Great Lakes, said the Senate's quick action shows that Congress recognizes the Great Lakes "as a national icon." Levin introduced the bill just last week.

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(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)