After watching the Aral Sea disaster unfold in the second half of the last century, governors of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes formed a compact to prevent a similar problem in North America. Crain's looks at how well it's done for the past 10 years:
Hammered out over five years, the Compact, aimed at keeping Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes, was approved by the legislatures of all eight states bordering the Great Lakes, Congress and the Canadian provinces and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.
The Great Lakes Compact prohibits new or increased diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions for communities and counties that straddle the basin boundary and meet rigorous standards. It asks states to develop water conservation plans, collect water use data, and produce annual water use reports. Great Lakes states as well as Ontario and Quebec are to keep track of impacts of water use in the basin.
Certainly, the future of water on the planet seems fraught enough to make one wonder how the Great Lake Compact will fare as the years pass. The most ardent supporters of the Compact say that challenges abound. These include a changing climate that is expected to bring drought as well as heightened political pressure to open up what some view as an invaluable public resource now off limits to the rest of the world.
So it is easy to see why the Great Lakes loom large in the eyes of those who seek to solve their water woes. The lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. They hold 84 percent of North America's surface fresh water and about 21 percent of the world's supply, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This will be one to watch. Being adjacent to Lake Michigan is one of the biggest reasons I'm optimistic about Chicago; but what if the shoreline were 20 kilometers away? It could happen.