A surfer and a sailboat charter captain testified at a state hearing Wednesday night on a proposed policy that would potentially allow for new diversion of water from the Great Lakes. The interests of the 41 people in attendance varied, but the message from most was the same: Don't do it.
Most who spoke at the University at Buffalo's Center for Tomorrow on the North Campus in Amherst were bothered by a provision in what many environmentalists otherwise regard as a positive agreement among the governors of the eight Great Lakes states about protecting what amounts to 20 percent of the world's fresh-water supply.
"It's odd to start this process -- with a lot of general stuff on what is intended, and the one specific thing is a weakening of our protection," said Reg Gilbert of Buffalo-based Great Lakes United, which monitors environmental issues around the lakes.
The proposed Annex 2001 agreement by the Council of Great Lakes Governors generally reaffirms the principle of no future water exports, but it would allow new diversions of less than 1 million gallons a day for certain exempt uses, including the protection of public health and safety.
One million gallons amounts to less than one-thousandth of 1 percent of the average annual renewable capacity of the Great Lakes system, according to the council, but environmentalists see the provision as a loophole that eventually could lead to larger withdrawals in the future.
The so-called de minimis provision "controverts everything else in this document," said Gilbert, who added that the philosophy should be "minimal harm to the environment, not minimal amounts" of diversions.
A number of those who addressed representatives from the council, Gov. George E. Pataki's office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation also criticized the de minimis provision in the Annex, which officials hope eventually will be a side agreement to the 1985 Great Lakes Charter.
"I am concerned about the 1 million gallon per day standard," said Terry Yonker, who said he had been involved in Great Lakes issues for 30 years. "I don't think there should be any diversion or consumption above what is being consumed today."
The de minimis provision is also what's keeping the government of Ontario from committing to the new Annex, according to Jeffrey Edstrom, Council of Great Lakes Governors senior policy director, when questioned by Bruce Kersh-ner, representing the Buffalo Audubon Society.
"Ontario has a ban on diversions," Kershner said. "I think that states their position clearly."
Several speakers said that any crack in what has been a united stand by the states and provinces opposing water removal would soon be wedged wide open, with Great Lakes water pouring into the parched U.S. West and Southwest.