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February 28, 2001

Business Council urges rejection of proposed restrictions on Great Lakes water

The Business Council is urging Governor Pataki to reject a proposed new multistate agreement governing use of water from the Great Lakes, saying the regulations would needlessly limit New York businesses' access to Great Lakes water.

"The Business Council questions the need for onerous new conservation measures that could impose significant costs on the basin's economy, but will have little, if any, effect on water levels in the Great Lakes," Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh said in a Feb. 27 letter to Governor Pataki and the Council of Great Lakes Governors, which advanced the proposal.

The proposal would modify the current Great Lakes Charter, a non-binding agreement among the Great Lakes states to oversee any use of Great Lakes water that exceeds 5 million gallons per day. It was released recently by the Council of Great Lakes Governors, which includes New York.

"It is not an overstatement to say that Business Council members are alarmed at the potential impact of this proposal," said Ken Pokalsky, director of environmental and regulatory affairs.

"We have talked with more than 100 member companies over the past two weeks on this issue. Few disagreed with the goal of preventing large-scale diversions out of the basin, but few if any thought the new 'approval criteria' were necessary to achieve that goal."

Between 80 and 100 facilities in New York are subject to water-use oversight under the current charter, Pokalsky said. The new requirement could apply to every facility that proposes a new or expanded use of any amount of water; this change will affect many hundreds of facilities, including municipal water supplies, agricultural users, power plants, and manufacturers, he added.

The proposed charter seeks a uniform standard among Great Lakes states for making decisions about proposed water uses. It would also lower the threshold at which regulatory oversight kicked in - to any new or increased use. And it would also impose specific new regulatory requirements pertaining to water conservation and "ecosystem impacts," Pokalsky said.

The Business Council thinks the goal of the proposal, ensuring state-level control over diversions of significant amounts of water from the Great Lakes basin, is laudable, Walsh wrote.

"Unfortunately, specific provisions of this proposal go well beyond what is necessary to meet this goal, and could lead to onerous new restrictions on business in upstate New York," he added.

In several instances, the proposal is dangerously vague, Walsh said.

For example, the proposal would prohibit new or increased use of lake waters until "all reasonable and appropriate water conservation measures" have been implemented. But the proposal offers no guidance as to what constitutes reasonable measures, Walsh wrote.

The proposal also would require that new or increased use of lake waters come with a demonstration of "improvements to the waters and water-dependent resources of the basin." But the proposal provides little guidance as to what this provision would mean to the regulated community.

"In both cases, the extremely broad regulatory language could result in any number of onerous new regulatory obligations that have no relationship to the basic intent of the Charter Annex," Walsh wrote.

"Existing permitting, reporting and review processes already assure sustainable water uses within the basin, and we question the need for any new regulation of in-basin uses," he said.