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Approve Great Lakes Compact New York's overdue signature a step toward needed water accord

When Abraham Lincoln hoped that the Father of Waters would again go unvexed to the sea, all he needed was for Gen. Grant to take Vicksburg and regain Union control of the Mississippi. He didn't have to deal with those pesky clerical errors that have -- briefly, we hope -- impeded the ratification of an agreement that will protect some other important waters.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Compact has been approved by both the New York Assembly and the Senate. But because of the wrong piece of paper was mistakenly approved by the Assembly a few months ago, the July 16 approval by the Senate wasn't the final legislative word on the subject. Whenever the Assembly resumes, perhaps this week, its members should move quickly to formally ratify the compact, and send it along to Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer for his expected signature.

(While's he's got his pen out, Spitzer should also sign the bill adding new funds to the state's Environmental Protection Fund. That's the one that encourages smart growth, preserves open space and farmland, protects watersheds and adds to public understanding of environmental issues by supporting zoos and botanical gardens.)

New York's approval of the compact will make two states, out of the necessary eight, that will have joined a crucial alliance to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River from the covetous eyes of some more arid parts of the world. Minnesota is the other state to have officially signed on. When joined by Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, ratified by Congress, and joined by the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the compact will institute water conservation and preservation measures that should help to protect the huge but still fragile ecosystem on which so much animal life and human commerce rely.

This is not a case of stopping giant dams to preserve tiny fish. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) This is about keeping the lakes whole and the water levels high to provide the adjoining land areas, and their major cities, with the water they need for drinking, shipping and recreation. Which, it just so happens, will also save a lot of tiny fish.

Final approval of the Great Lakes Compact may not be as dramatic as a pivotal Civil War battle. But, in the long run, it will be just about as important.

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