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Prevent diversion of our water supply
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 11/29/2007 12:19 AM

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Lake Michigan gives us so much that it should never be taken for granted.

First and foremost, it gives us life. Water from Lake Michigan slakes the thirst of nearly 7 million people in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

We also use the water to bathe, to cook our food, to water our lawns and wash our cars.

Lake Michigan also adds to our quality of life. We go there to take a break from our busy lives to enjoy a day at the beach, to fish, to take a boat excursion.

And it pumps billions into our local economy. Ships come into lake ports with materials businesses need to make their products and to thrive.

In all, nearly 45 million people rely on the Great Lakes for jobs, energy, drinking water and recreation, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, or CRS.

But overuse -- and nature -- are posing a threat to our livelihood that is tied to Lake Michigan.

The Associated Press reports that water levels on the Great Lakes -- particularly Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior -- have been dropping for much of the past decade. Some researchers blame this on global warming, which is causing rapid evaporation that is not being offset by precipitation. Other scientists attribute low lake levels to historical ebb-and-flow patterns.

Yet there is no doubt that the Great Lakes are getting shallower, and it's critical to control diversions of lake water for commercial and residential use lest lake levels drop to dangerously low levels.

Just such a precautionary measure has been taken by the governors of the eight Great Lakes states. They signed a compact in 2005 that forbids water from being diverted outside the immediate Great Lakes drainage basin.

No doubt these governors fear that arid and rapidly developing regions of the country -- the west, Southwest and parts of the South -- want to drain off Great Lakes water to solve their growing water shortages. This is nothing new. As far back as the 1950s, Wyoming unsuccessfully tried to get water from Lake Superior piped to the state, according to CRS. Moreover, a grand canal system had been proposed to ship Great Lakes water throughout the western United States.

The CRS report also presents another alarming scenario. Great Lakes water might be viewed as a saleable commodity under trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. If so, this would give other nations the opportunity to ease their water shortages by buying Lake Michigan water.

The pact regulating Great Lakes water diversions has been approved in Illinois and Minnesota. But it still needs to be endorsed by six other states. It is in their best interests to do so, to prevent a precious resource that provides jobs and supports life itself from being drained off to dry places.