Annin welcomes LU to the Basin

James McDaniel

Did you know that only one percent of the world’s water can be used as drinking water? In addition, did you know that by 2025 two thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages? Peter Annin, author of “Great Lakes Water Wars” and longtime environmental journalist, opened the second talk in the Spoerl environmental studies lecture series on water and its management with these sobering facts.
Annin’s visit to campus coincided with Professor Finkler and Assistant Professor Knudsen’s Environmental Studies Symposium titled “Water Wars.” The Great Lakes Water Basin, the area from which rain and other groundwater sources flow into the Great Lakes, contains 18 percent of the world’s freshwater. Annin suggested imagining the Basin like a soup bowl. If it rains over the bowl, water that hits the rim will flow into the Great Lakes.
Tuesday, Annin met with the class to discuss the history of Great Lakes water conflict as well as the most recent developments with the Great Lakes Compact. He also focused on both subjects in his speech in Wriston auditorium later Tuesday night, during which Annin explained that the Compact came about as a result of nearly 100 years of water conflict and concern over diversion of water from the Great Lakes Basin.
In basic terms, the Compact states that no water can be diverted to areas outside of the Great Lakes Basin and any water diverted within the basin must follow certain conservation and water return rules. There are a few exceptions to the Compact regarding communities and counties that are cut in half by the basin border. These “Straddling County” and “Straddling Community” exceptions are allowed to turn in water diversion applications that could permit them to use Great Lakes water as long as they returned it after use.
After years of debate and political negotiation between the eight U.S. states that make up the basin, President Bush finally signed the Compact into law Oct. 3, 2008.
Unfortunately, the signing of the Compact was greatly overshadowed by news of the bailout package, which Bush signed the same day. The Compact also has a twin international agreement to include the two Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which also fall within the Basin.
As of Annin’s visit to campus, Ontario has passed the agreement and Quebec plans to pass it later this year.
Annin began his talk with a concise history of the Great Lakes water controversy. The earliest water diversion project and the most controversial to this day came from Chicago in 1900.
In order to solve Chicago’s pollution and sewage problem the city reversed the flow of the Chicago River, sending all of Chicago’s waste pouring ultimately into the Mississippi River.
This resulted in a lawsuit from Missouri’s St. Louis. St. Louis lost the suit, and under the Compact, the Chicago diversion was exempt from the diversion restrictions as long as Chicago does not send water out of Illinois.
Another major controversy occurred almost 100 years later, when a Canadian organization known as the Nova Group proposed shipping freshwater from the Great Lakes to Asia to turn a profit. While this never happened, the controversy helped spur the attention needed to bring the eight states together to write the current Compact.
Sonia Emmons, a junior environmental studies major and a native of St. Louis, said, “What struck me the most besides the Chicago diversion was just having the author on campus. It really hit home. Having the Fox River right in our backyard, this issue is so close to us.”
When asked what he hoped Lawrentians would get out of his visit, Annin remarked, “Wherever you are, but especially in this part of the country, know what watershed you live in!