Taps on Great Lakes water bear watching: environmental group

CHICAGO Tue Jul 12, 2011 3:17pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - States bordering on the Great Lakes are adhering -- with a few exceptions -- to a compact not to withdraw too much lake water that sustains 40 million people, environmental groups said on Tuesday.

Without keen oversight, the Great Lakes that contain one-fifth of the world's supply of fresh water could experience "death by a thousand straws," said Marc Smith of the National Wildlife Federation, which released a report on the states' stewardship.

By and large, the Great Lakes compact reached in 2008 among the eight bordering states and two Canadian provinces has been implemented successfully, though all the states have failed to meet at least one of the pact's 2010 conservation guidelines, the environmental group said.

Water levels in the five Great Lakes are fairly stable at the moment, though about a foot below average this summer in the three largest -- Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are slightly above their July averages, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The compact prohibits new and increased diversions of water from the lakes, with strict rules for exceptions.

Exceptions to the compact's sustainable approach include Ohio legislation that allows large withdrawals from tributaries to Lake Erie without a review. A plan in Illinois to spread its water allotment to Chicago's nearby suburbs was also cited.

"Ohio is flouting several requirements of the compact" with its bill, which has yet to be signed by Governor John Kasich, said Sara Gosman of the Wildlife Federation.

"Uncontrolled, larger withdrawals mean more harmful algal blooms, less water for hydropower and could impact drinking water," said Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Chicago operates under a separate decree that sets its water diversion at slightly more than 2 billion gallons a day. Under a $250 million plan, some of the allotment may be diverted to communities outside the Lake Michigan basin North of the city, which could violate the spirit of the compact.

"Our take on this is the compact is still working. It's a road map. The question is, are the states going to adhere to it. What Ohio has done is still capable of being fixed," Smith said.

(Editing by Peter Bohan)

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