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House passes Great Lakes Compact

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AP Photo/John L. Russell/FILE

(Read caption) Lake Huron, Mich. As the arid Southwest's population surges and the global fresh water crisis worsens, fears are growing that outsiders will suck the Great Lakes dry – or at least diminish the inland seas, connecting channels and tributaries that hold 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water.

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The House of Representatives Tuesday voted to ban almost any diversion of water from the Great Lakes Basin, one of the world's largest sources of fresh water, to places outside the region.

The Great Lakes Compact, an agreement drafted by the eight states that border the lakes, would in most cases prohibit other states and countries from tapping into the lakes, which comprise 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh surface water.

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The House approved the measure 390 to 25. The Senate passed the compact in August, so now it moves on to President Bush, who says he will sign it.

The agreement is nearly a decade in the making. The New York Times describes the negotiations needed to draft the compact's final version.

Before the legislation reached Congress, the states bordering the lakes had to approve the compact individually, agreeing — in a contentious process that itself took years — to certain common goals. The last state to approve, Michigan, did so only in July, following Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which also border the lakes, have adopted a nearly identical document.

Not all House members are happy with the measure. Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak criticized the agreement because it allows for the diversion of water in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons. This exemption, fears Rep. Stupak creates what he calls a "bottled water loophole" that could allow the lakes to be depleted.

Stupak, who voted against the bill, also fears that the bill's creation of a federal definition of Great Lakes water as a "product" would subject the water to international trade agreements and open it to possible privatization.

The Detroit Free Press seems to dismiss Stupak's concerns, writing:

Legal experts said those fears are unfounded and that there are ways each state can regulate water bottling, as Michigan does. For any new withdrawal of water for bottling, Michigan requires the bottler to get a permit if it plans to take more than 200,000 gallons per day. Whether a bottler gets a permit depends on the effect of the withdrawal on nearby streams and fish.