Communities Feel Drain on Great Lakes First
The future prosperity of Great Lakes communities depends on managing the region’s water — locally and basin-wide — not frivolously as an endless sea but realistically as a finite and fragile global resource.
March 7, 2003 |
|Water-efficient irrigation. Manistee County, MI.|
Acute water shortages seem impossible in the Great Lakes — a region defined by the largest system of fresh surface water on the planet. But a growing number of Great Lakes communities face serious questions about future access to water, including Rochester, NY; Waterloo, Ontario; Toledo, OH; Monroe County and Saginaw, MI; Chicago; and Green Bay, WI.
The reason? No comprehensive laws exist to balance the rising consumption of water with the amount that actually is available in local areas. The solution is a new basin-wide water ethic, defined by clear and enforceable standards, that recognizes the potential for scarcity amidst seeming water abundance.
Drink Locally. Think Regionally.
Failure to manage water supply results in unrestrained use by suburban, agricultural, and industrial consumers. These combined demands stress public water facilities, deplete local groundwater reserves, and can reduce the amount of water that naturally sustains interrelated resources, such as wetlands, rivers, and wildlife.
The future prosperity of Great Lakes communities depends on managing the region’s water — locally and basin wide — not frivolously as an endless sea but realistically as a finite and fragile global resource.
Little Decisions Add Up
Local development choices directly affect the Great Lakes because the quantity and quality of Great Lakes water depends on the condition of the region’s interrelated inland lakes, subsurface groundwater, rivers, and wetlands. Groundwater in particular is the lifeblood of communities, providing households and businesses with affordable water. It also supports the natural environment by keeping nearby streams and the Great Lakes themselves supplied.
Individual, local decisions about water use have widespread importance because the Great Lakes are one system — one regional web of interdependent streams, underground aquifers, wetlands, and lakes. Yet businesses and governments in the Great Lakes have given little thought to the water problems that unplanned and unlimited wells might create for local water users, natural habitats, and the basin itself.
Drilling a new, large-scale well to provide a subdivision with water, for example, can have far-reaching consequences if a community has not prepared for additional water uses with policies that promote efficiency and water supply planning.
The new well, when taken together with existing uses, can intensify the steady drawdown on the local area’s freshwater supply.
Real Protection Proposed
Local decision makers need reasonable rules based on efficiency and environmental improvement to guide their choices about new or increased water uses. Such rules can help communities plan for new water needs while protecting existing and future water users, the natural environment, and the strength of the overall Great Lakes system.
Great Lakes governments, through the Great Lakes Charter Annex, are considering a regional water policy to guide local development decisions. The region’s states and provinces now have the opportunity to craft legislation that protects all water users by basing decisions on the effects that withdrawals would have on the healthy functioning of local ecosystems.