The Columbia Water Center is leading intellectual inquiry into the assessment, prediction and solution of the growing scarcity of fresh water. Although the CWC is looking at water issues across the globe, up until now, little attention at the Center has been focused on the Great Lakes. Some past student projects have explored in-depth the challenges facing the Great Lakes (for a particularly thorough project, I encourage you to check out the “Great Lakes Final Report.”) This column intends to create an ongoing dialogue for the Center on the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin.
Initially, this column will examine three issues currently facing the Great Lakes. The first few postings will discuss regional climate change and hydrologic models, to better understand the likely impacts of climate change on Great Lakes water levels. By adopting the Great Lakes Compact, and its associated international agreement, the states and provinces suggest that protection of the Great Lakes freshwater is necessary in order to avoid “scarcity.” Scarcity, in this case, implies lower water levels which would have a negative impact on the watershed or its inhabitants. The column will examine this argument through an analysis of the health of the watershed, and the projected resulting impact of changes in the climate or hydrologic cycle on the inhabitants and ecosystems of the watershed.
The second set of postings seeks to understand and discuss the provisions of the Great Lakes Compact itself, within the context of the conclusions of the hydrologic analysis. When the final documents of the Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact were signed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 13, 2005, skeptics still wondered if the Compact would ever see the President’s signature. However, less than three years later, it was signed by President Bush and adopted into law. So are the provisions of the Compact reasonable – does this law effectively manage the water resources of the Great Lakes, given the modeled hydrology of the Great Lakes? Are certain provisions unnecessary, or counterproductive? What opportunities for entrepreneurial water use, if any, are created in the Compact?
Following these issues, I will examine entrepreneurial opportunities available in the use of Great Lakes water under the confines of the Compact. Water shortages in parts of the U.S. present opportunities to those who have abundant water. While the Compact does not allow increased or new major diversions of Great Lakes water, it does allow the use of Great Lakes water for local inhabitants for intra-basin use. Are there water-centric industries or agriculture which could be relocated to the Great Lakes watershed? We’ll examine the concept of “virtual water” – freshwater used to produce a product, measured at the point of production, but which is traded to a different geographic area – as an opportunity (or challenge?) for the region.
Long-term, I plan to work on issues related to readers’ interests. If there’s something specific you would like me to address, please let me know!