Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bottling A California Town's Water is a Great, Great Lakes Lesson

Not content with selling Michigan spring water as "Ice Mountain" along with many other brands, Nestle has captured yet another small community's water, and plans to bottle and sell it far from the source.

As if the supply will last forever.

But don't think that Nestle's move on a faraway California town's water supply is an isolated event for the 1,400 people who live there.

The issue is national, regional and international, with echos right here in Wisconsin, a Great Lakes state.

There has been alot of publicity in Wisconsin about the need for the state to amend, then adopt, the US-Canadian agreement called the Great Lakes Compact.

One change that is needed is the closing of a loophole in that agreement that makes it easier to export, and lose, Great Lakes water.

As drafted, the Compact says that Great Lakes water can't be shipped away to communities that sit outside of the Great Lakes basin - - except under very specific procedures and circumstances.

But the bottled water loophole, written to please the private water industry, says water can be shipped out of the Great Lakes in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons without any special approvals and without limits on their quantity.

That's a pretty big loophole, and will guarantee that a great deal of water will be shipped far away from the Great Lakes by the fast-growing bottled water industry.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle and other multinationals are nailing down large segments of world fresh water resources, selling the water bottle-by-bottle at enormous markups and creating billions of plastic bottles that litter the landscape and end up in landfills.

And here we are, at the edge of Lake Michigan, where everything from invasive species to fish viruses to industrial and municipal pollution harms the Great Lakes - - and some Wisconsin politicians are playing games with the one multi-state/multi-national agreement on the books to better manage this precious and unique water resource.

State Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin is among Waukesha County government and business leaders blocking adoption, in Wisconsin, of the pending Great Lakes compact - - an agreement that:

A) Is needed for its general water conservation principles.

B) And needs amending to remove the bottled water exporting exception.

Lazich sits on the legislative study committee established last year to write Great Lakes Compact implementing legislation for Wisconsin.

But the committee has not met since December.

Lazich and the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce oppose Wisconsin's adoption of the Compact. Minnesota has passed it, and other states are moving in that direction, too.

This leaves open the possibility that should Lazich & Co. prevail, Wisconsin - - the once-proud leader in environmentalism and Great Lakes protection - - will be known in North America as the anti-Great Lakes conservation state.

Blocking the Compact's implementation in Wisconsin, or any single state, will freeze its implementation across an eight-state region, and will continue to leave the Great Lakes vulnerable to mismanagement.

We can't do much in this part of the country about Nestle walking off with a valuable supply of northern California water. (Note to progressive conference planners: Can we at least stop providing Ice Mountain and such other bottled waters?)

But we can help slam the door on the company doing the same thing in our own backyard in Michigan and any other Great Lakes state.

Sen. Lazich: Wisconsin residents and the Great Lakes watershed, need your leadership, not your obstruction.

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