Business & Policy Environmental Policy Are the Great Lakes Under Threat From Thirsty Southwestern American States? By Lloyd Alter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Lloyd Alter Updated October 11, 2018 Public Domain. Commander Perry on Lake Erie Share Twitter Pinterest Email Business & Policy Corporate Responsibility Environmental Policy Economics Food Issues Do international treaties mean anything when America needs fresh water? There is a lot of fresh water in the Great Lakes, fully one fifth of the world's supply of it. According to Ron Way of the Minnesota Star Tribune, people down in the American Southwest are eyeballing it in what he calls "the great siphoning." Those far-off onlookers thirst mightily for the Lakes’ 6.5 million billion gallons of fresh water that, to them, just sits there before running off to the ocean. Wasted. It’s easy for us lake-landers to dismiss such thoughts, but those in the American Southwest are up against a 17-year drought that keeps getting worse. After an unusually warm winter, it’s expected to worsen still more this summer due to a dearth of mountain snow that will again leave Colorado River flow far below normal, with forecasts of dry and very hot weather à la La Niña. President Nixon and Prime Minister Trudeau sign Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972/Public Domain Way notes that there are treaties and agreements protecting this water, but that these could change. But because the ultimate power rests with Congress and the president, multistate compacts and international accords can be false security. What’s done can be undone, as evidenced by all the undoing from today’s Washington crowd. What’s more, some scholars say the compact could be vulnerable to legal challenge, especially if a national emergency were declared. Certainly Canadians have seen recently what the American government will do in the name of national security. Way goes so far as to predict: Within the lifetime of today’s newborn, Great Lakes water will be piped to the Colorado basin to relieve a region that by midcentury will be in the throes of an unimaginable water crisis. Writing in Strong Towns, Rachel Quednau blames the water crisis on the Growth Ponzi scheme- "through which we have developed countless cities, towns and suburbs across America — a quick-fix financial ruse that values "growth" above all else and sacrifices economic stability and the futures of communities for a temporary gain....The reality of this "unrestrained growth" is finally is hitting. The bills are finally coming due." Burning of the White House/Public Domain Two years ago, on the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House in the War of 1812, I asked Will the next war with Canada be a fight over water? Many readers thought I was nuts. (Although my favourite comment was "I am amused at the thought of the US sucking Canada Dry.") but the events of the last few months, with arbitrary tariffs, ripping up of international agreements like NAFTA, and other bellicose actions by the American government give pause for thought. And as Ron Way notes, The West sees some things in its favor, politically. One is mushrooming population that’s tipping the power balance in Congress. Another is the always-powerful agriculture industry in the West. And still another is that Western states stick together like fired clay to leverage their will over all things land and water. Besides, they’ll argue, water is a resource that, like oil, must be shared. Or grabbed, as the case may be. NAPAWA via Wikipedia/Public Domain This is not a new idea, as I noted in the earlier post; There have been a number of proposals to divert Canadian waters south to solve America's water woes. In the 50s, the US Corps of Engineers proposed the North American Water and Power Alliance, diverting western rivers to a giant 500 mile long reservoir that would hold 75 million acre-feet of water, enough to feed the west and even Mexico. Beloved Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson said "This can be one of the most important developments in our history; Environmentalists of the time described it as "brutal magnificence" and "unprecedented destructiveness." GRAND Canal via Wikipedia/Public Domain They may well be dusting off the plans as I write.