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1986 Federal Great Lakes Water Resources Development Act Hits Queensbury Sewer Plan

By Carol W. LaGrasse, May 5, 2004

Concerns about water diversions from the Great Lakes basin have grown since the days when the Illinois and Michigan Barge Canal was built 150 years ago. The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 created an International Joint Commission to address use of the waters from the Great Lakes, but water diversions were not fully regulated. In 1955 the international Great Lakes Compact was drawn up, then ratified by New York State in 1960. But, even though Congress approved the Compact in 1968, the Great Lakes Commission in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which was created by the Compact, had no powers except to make recommendations.

This weakness was addressed by a report of the Great Lakes Governors Task Force in 1985, and in 1986 Congress passed the Great Lakes Water Resources Development Act. This law has a powerful provision; it bars water diversions from the Great Lakes Basin in any amount without the consent of all eight riparian states. In 1989 New York enacted the Great Lakes Water Conservation and Management Act, which prohibits diversions in of waters originating in the Great Lakes Basin without the approval of both the Governor and the Legislature. This approval process has never been used. When I investigated this issue in 1992, the eight-governor approval process had never been used, either.

This year, the Town of Queensbury would like to send its sewage from the Lake George basin, which ultimately feeds the St. Lawrence River, over the divide to the Glens Falls sewage treatment plant on the Hudson. The Town has just learned about the laws restricting Great Lakes Basin water diversions. According to a report in The Post-Star on March 30, 2004, a proposal to use a $20 million federal sewer grant for the project may depend on Warren County's ability to negotiate approvals through eight governors and the New York State Legislature.

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