What About Community, Climate, and Quality; Strengthening Water Rights and Protections in the Great Lakes Basin

What About Community, Climate, and Quality; Strengthening Water Rights and Protections in the Great Lakes Basin

Madison Prokott

The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River Basin hold twenty-one percent of the world’s fresh water, bring in billions of dollars to the region annually, and provide water to over 30 million people for uses ranging from drinking and recreation to industry.[1] The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Resources Compact (“Great Lakes Compact” or “Compact”) regulates this Basin.[2] Each of the eight states, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and the two surrounding Canadian providences, Ontario and Quebec, within the Basin collaborate through the Compact to coordinate their activities and ensure the longevity of their mutual water source.[3] However, in the thirteen years since the Compact was enacted, states have taken actions contrary to the Compact’s purpose and sought economic gains through the exploitation of loopholes. Additionally, time has shown that the Compact cannot effectively address new problems and issues such as water quality,[4] climate change,[5] and regional water access.[6] While other interstate agreements have faced similar challenges, some have successfully managed to both adapt and provide protections for their water resources.[7]

As written, the Great Lakes Compact is a valuable interstate agreement that is not impactful enough to account for current and impending impacts to the Great Lakes Basin. An amendment to the Compact would enable it to be proactive rather than reactive and modernize the Compact’s original language.

Part I of this Note begins by discussing the history of the Great Lakes Compact including the Great Lakes Charter of 1985, the Great Lakes Annex of 2001. Additionally, Part I includes relevant sections of the Great Lakes Compact to lay the foundation of the law that currently governs the Great Lakes Basin. Part II discusses why the Compact needs an amendment by addressing scientific findings and legal precedent. Part III of this Note addresses the successes and failures of other interstate agreements. Part IV applies the language used in successful interstate agreements and environmental legislation to formulate an amendment that improves the Compact and allows it to better stand the test of time. Part IV includes a proposal for a new amendment that is proactive and will protect the Basin for generations to come. Lastly, in Part V, this Note considers the likely reception of this amendment and the possibility of its enactment.

[1] Facts and Figures About the Great Lakes, EPA, https://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/facts-and-figures-about-great-lakes (last visited Sept. 27, 2021); Env’t. L. & Pol’y Ctr, An Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Change on the Great Lakes 6 (2020), https://elpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019-ELPCPublication-Great-Lakes-Climate-Change-Report.pdf.

[2] Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 324.34201 (West 2008).

[3] Id.

[4] Great Lakes’ Retention/Replacement Time, Statista (Sept. 30, 2011), https://www.statista.com/statistics/204184/retention-replacement-time-of-the-largest-lakes-in-the-us/.

[5] Paris D. Collingsworth et al., Climate Change as a Long-term Stressor for the Fisheries of the Laurentian Great Lakes of North America, 27 Rev. Fish Biology and Fisheries 363 (2017), https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/pubs/fulltext/2017/20170016.pdf.;  Env’t. L. & Pol’y Ctr, supra note 1, at 6.

[6] River All. Wis., DNR 18-006 (Div. of Hearings & Appeals June 7, 2019), https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/sites/default/files/topic/WaterUse/Racine/CityofRacineDNR180006Decision.pdf; Smoke v. Planning Bd. of Town of Greig, 138 A.D.3d 1437 (2016).

[7] Delaware River Basin Commission, Delaware River Basin Compact, 13, https://www.nj.gov/drbc/library/documents/compact.pdf; Chesapeake Bay Program, Chesapeake 2000, https://www.chesapeakebay.net/channel_files/19193/chesapeake_2000.pdf.


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