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Great Lakes Water Management
Great Lakes Agreement and Compact
External Link Great Lakes--St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council
External Link Great Lakes--St. Lawrence River Water Resources Regional Body
Great Lakes Compact Implementation
Great Lakes Water Conservation and Efficiency Initiative
Great Lakes Water Use Information Initiative
Great Lakes Water Resource Managers Initiative
Legal Structure
Documents and Letters

Great Lakes Water Management Initiative

Legal Structure

Quick Links
Great Lakes Compact and Agreement

Other State and Provincial Agreements

Federal Laws, Agreements and Decisions

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement and Compact

On December 13, 2005, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers signed agreements at the Council of Great Lakes Governors’ (CGLG) Leadership Summit that will provide unprecedented protections for the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin.

The agreements include the following:

1. The Great Lakes—St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement (the Agreement), a good-faith agreement among the Great Lakes States, Ontario and Québec; that will be implemented in Ontario and Québec through Provincial laws, and in the States, through

2. The Great Lakes—St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (the Compact), an agreement among the Great Lakes States that was passed into law through an interstate compact and came into force on December 8, 2008.

The agreements detail how the States and Provinces will manage and protect the Great Lakes—St. Lawrence River Basin and will provide a framework for each State and Province to enact laws protecting the Basin.

The agreements include the following points:
• There will be a ban on new diversions of water from the Basin. Limited exceptions could be allowed, such as for public water supply purposes in communities near the Basin, but exceptions would be strictly regulated.
• The States and Provinces will use a consistent standard to review proposed uses of Great Lakes water.
• The collection of technical data will be strengthened, and the States and Provinces will share the information, which will improve decision-making by the governments.
• Regional goals and objectives for water conservation and efficiency will be developed, and they will be reviewed every five years. Each State and Province will develop and implement a water conservation and efficiency program.
• Lasting economic development will be balanced with sustainable water use to ensure Great Lakes waters are managed responsibly.

Other State and Provincial Agreements

Great Lakes Charter (1985). The Great Lakes Charter, an agreement signed in 1985 by the eight Great Lakes Governors and the Premiers of Ontario and Québec outlined a series of principles for the collective management of the Great Lakes by the Great Lakes States and Provinces. It also created a notice and consultation process for Great Lakes diversions. The signatories agreed that no Great Lakes State or Province would proceed with any new or increased diversion or consumptive use of Great Lakes water over five million gallons per day without notifying, consulting, and seeking the consent of all affected Great Lakes States and Provinces.

Great Lakes Charter Annex (2001). The Governors and Premiers outlined the framework for creating a set of binding agreements among the Great Lakes States and Provinces by 2004.  They established a series of principles to be used to develop a new standard for reviewing proposed withdrawals of Great Lakes water.  The Governors and Premiers also called for the ongoing involvement of the public as the agreements are developed.

Federal Laws, Agreements and Decisions

International Boundary Waters Treaty (1909). The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 addresses common issues facing the U.S. and Canada for water resources shared along their border. Article III of the Treaty states that, "no further or other uses or obstructions or diversions, whether temporary or permanent, of boundary waters on either side of the line, affecting the natural level or flow of boundary waters on the other side of the line shall be made except by authority of the United States or the Dominion of Canada within their respective jurisdictions and with the approval, as hereinafter provided, of a joint commission, to be known as the International Joint Commission.”

The International Joint Commission (IJC) is asked by the two federal governments to periodically report on issues related to Great Lakes water management under the Boundary Waters Treaty. A February 2000 report on the most recent reference made recommendations calling on the Great Lakes States and Provinces to take the lead in better managing the resource through strengthening the Great Lakes Charter and working more closely in protecting the resource. The full report in pdf format can be found here (warning--4 mb download).

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Great Lakes Water QualityAgreement (the Agreement, or GLWQA) was first signed in 1972 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and President Richard Nixon, reflecting Canada and the United States’ commitment to resolve a wide range of water quality issues facing the Great Lakes and the international section of the St. Lawrence River. A revised GLWQA was signed in 1978 and amended by Protocol in 1987.

The Agreement, as revised and amended, seeks to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The Agreement adopts an ecosystem approach (one which considers the interaction of air, land, water and living things, including humans) and calls for a broad range of pollution-reduction programs. It also calls for the virtual elimination of the input of persistent toxic substances following a zero discharge philosophy. Programs to restore both the quality of open waters and beneficial uses in 43 of the most contaminated local areas in the basin are also provided for in the Agreement.

Water Resources Development Act (1986, amended 2000). The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA) prohibited "any diversion or export of Great Lakes water by any State, federal agency, or private entity for use outside the Great Lakes basin unless such diversion is approved by the Governor of each of the Great Lakes States." It also prohibits any Federal agency from studying the transfer of Great Lakes water for use outside the Great Lakes Basin, unless done under the auspices of the IJC. To ensure compliance with a 1967 Supreme Court (modified 1980) consent decree, the act also appropriates federal resources to monitor and measure Lake Michigan’s water flow into the Chicago River.

Lake Michigan Diversion Supreme Court Consent Decree 388 U.S. 426 (1967) Modified 449 U.S. 48 (1980). In 1900, the City of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River so that instead of flowing into Lake Michigan, it flowed out of Lake Michigan toward the Mississippi River system. This necessitated the diversion of water from Lake Michigan. Following decades of negotiations, the Great Lakes States entered into a Consent Decree in 1967 regulating the diversion of Great Lakes water into the Chicago River. The decree states that the State of Illinois may not divert more than 3200 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Lake Michigan for navigation, domestic or sanitary uses. The consent decree was modified in 1980 to allow Illinois to extend domestic use of the water to additional communities and to provide additional guidance on the parameters of the measurement of the diversion.

Memorandum of Understanding on the Lake Michigan Diversion. In 1996, the Great Lakes States entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, concluding a lengthy mediation process on Illinois's diversion of Lake Michigan water at Chicago. Under the U.S. Supreme Court decrees, Illinois was limited to 3,200 cfs each year. Illinois had exceeded that limit by nearly 15 percent. It was agreed that llinois would reduce its annual diversion over the following 14 years to restore to Lake Michigan the excess amount of water it has withdrawn since 1980 and construct new lakefront structures to prevent leakage. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired the Chicago River locks that had not been sealing adequately. All eight Great Lakes States and the U.S. Federal government participated in discussions mediated by a professional mediator. The Province of Ontario as well as the City of Chicago and the Army Corps of Engineers were involved as observers or provided technical support.

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