Protect the Great Lakes as a Commons, says Council of Canadians

Media Release
March 22, 2011

As the federal government prepares to introduce its budget, the Council of Canadians is calling for the allocation of significant resources to protecting the Great Lakes as a Commons, a Public Trust and a Protected Bioregion. The Council of Canadians outlines how and why to do this in a new report today entitled Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Forever.

“The Great Lakes crisis is part of the global crisis, in which we are quickly running out of fresh water,” says Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, author of the report, which is available at www.canadians.org/water. “It's not a closed hydrological cycle like we were taught – we are losing clean water through irrigation, bottled water, virtual water trade and more.”

Our Great Lakes Commons is a call to understanding and a call to action on an exciting new proposal to designate the Great Lakes and its tributary waters as a lived Commons, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them. The Great Lakes Basin Commons would need to be protected by a legal and political framework based on Public Trust Doctrine, underpinning in law that the Great Lakes are central to the very existence of those people, plants and animals living on or near them and therefore must be protected for the common good from generation to generation.

“It’s time for the federal government to step up their commitment to restoring the Great Lakes,” says Council of Canadians national water campaigner Emma Lui, “The Obama administration had originally proposed $475 million for Great Lakes clean up, even the Republican party supported $225 million for the Restoration Initiative. In the last budget, the Harper Government allocated a mere $8 million to protect the Great Lakes. The federal government needs to increase funding significantly in order to protect the Great Lakes as a commons, public trust and protected bioregion.”

In the water chapter on water in the Alternative Federal Budget, the Council of Canadians calls for $3.375 billion in new funding over five years, to clean up polluted lakes and rivers, protect Canada’s waterways from invasive species, and to clean-up the Great Lakes.

"The American Geophysical Union published a paper in their journal, Geophysical Research Letters, that found the rate of global groundwater depletion more than doubled between 1960 and 2000," says Barlow. "Based on the findings of this study, the AGU estimates the Great Lakes "would go bone-dry in around 80 years" if they were depleted at the same rate as groundwater globally."

The long-term goal of the network proposing the Great Lakes Basin Commons – which includes the Council of Canadians, On the Commons and Food & Water Watch – is to eventually see a full treaty between Canada and the United States that declares the Great Lakes to be a lived Commons, Public Trust and Protected Bioregion, one that is also adopted by the states, provinces and First Nations of the Basin.

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Ten principles for the Great Lakes Basin Commons, called for in Our Great Lakes Commons
(These principles are elaborated on beginning on page 31 of the report)

  1. The waters of the Great Lakes belong to everyone and every living being that live on or around them.
  2. Private interests of those with claims to the Great Lakes are subordinate to public rights.
  3. The waters of the Great Lakes are a human right and must be equitably and justly shared.
  4. Governments have an affirmative obligation to manage and protect the water of the Great Lakes as a Commons.
  5. The Great Lakes Basin Commons recognizes the ecological rights of the watershed.
  6. The Great Lakes Basin Commons will require constant and careful management.
  7. The Great Lakes Basin Commons must encourage and empower decision-making at the local level.
  8. The water systems of Great Lakes communities should remain under public management.
  9. Public participation is key to the Great Lakes Basin Commons.
  10. All decisions about the Great Lakes should be made with the involvement of all recognized nations and people, including local First Nations/American Indian tribes.