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Protection for the Great Lakes

It has taken more than a decade to get it done, but it is now the law of the land and legislation that protects one of the Buffalo area's greatest assets is now in place.

The legislation involved approval by eight states, but that finally has been accomplished and the Great Lakes Compact will be in effect once President Bush, as fully expected, affixes his signature to the measure. He already has said he approves the bill, so that will not present any problem.

The House of Representatives, by a vote of 390 to 25, recently completed the process of approving a long-sought measure that protects the Great Lakes region from diversion of its water resources to places outside of the lakes basin, and requires the eight states bordering the Great Lakes to follow mandated conservation standards.

For too many years there were fears expressed that states or even foreign countries could tap into the lakes and do long-term damage to the basin's natural environment, and to its economy as well.

Most area residents are unaware that the Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's fresh water and are a resource that other states and nations would love to have. Many states and nations have water shortages, and for years have coveted what the Great Lakes could provide if they could get control of some part of what the lakes contain. An estimated 40 million people get their water from the Great Lakes basin.

The Great Lakes Compact will prevent the water's diversion under all but rare circumstances, and even then only with the approval of the bordering states -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Because each of the states bordering the Great Lakes had to individually approve the compact, the process took years.

Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee for the presidency has pledged $5 billion to clean up the Great Lakes. That is approximately a quarter of what environmental experts say is needed to effectively clean up the lakes. He has also pledged to name a Great Lakes coordinator to watch out for the lakes' needs.

It is interesting to note that the Canadian province of Ontario, which also borders the Lakes, has adopted a document nearly identical to the Great Lakes Compact. And in addition to the diversion protection element in the Great Lakes Compact, there is a provision to expand its evaluation of the Buffalo River. The EPA said it plans to report on the severity of the river's contamination early in 2009. The $3 million project includes $1.95 million in funding from the Great Lakes Legacy Act.

Lake Erie, the source of all Buffalo's water, is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. It has the shortest water detention time and is the siltiest of the lakes. This allows the lake to quickly flush harmful contaminants.


Regular readers of this Sunday column probably are surprised that I have not commented on the nation's most important problem -- the economic crisis. I had to refrain from expressing my thoughts on that horrible situation because as of this writing there has been no determination of what steps will be taken in attempts to get the economy back on track, or what failure to do so might bring. Anything I might write at this time most assuredly will be outdated by the time this column will be printed. I have many thoughts on this terrible situation.

No matter what the outcome is, there is one thing I can say that will not change. The events of recent days prove that Bush, in the final days of his administration, no longer can be a major factor in attempting to resolve the economic crisis the country finds itself in. It is, I believe, a fitting and unfortunate end to an administration that has not effectively served the nation.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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