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Source: Rochester City Newspaper

ENVIRONMENT: Legislation targets water withdrawals

BY JEREMY MOULE

Posted: May 4, 2011
Originally Published: May 4, 2011

If passed, legislation pending in the State Senate and Assembly would bring New York into compliance with a water-regulation agreement between Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces.

The bills direct the State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop regulations for water withdrawals exceeding 100,000 gallons per day, including water taken out of basins. The out-of-basin transfers are often used for bottled water or for consumption by parched areas.

Water withdrawals for agricultural use would be subject to a different standard.

Under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Water Resources Compact, the state committed to regulating water withdrawals from Lakes Erie and Ontario as well as from their drainage basins. The state also committed to starting water-conservation programs in the basins.

New York was supposed to have implemented both initiatives by December 2010, but the Legislature didn't pass the bills in time. This session, Republican Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, and Democratic Assembly member Robert Sweeney of Suffolk County are sponsoring bills that would meet those goals.

State and local environmental organizations are backing the bills. When members of the Rochester Sierra Club's Great Lakes Committee went to Albany for the Great Lakes lobby day earlier this spring, they asked legislators to support the bills, says committee co-chair Robbyn McKie-Holzworth.

"The Great Lakes are not an infinite source of water," says June Summers, president of the Genesee Valley Audubon Society.

The Great Lakes ecosystems depend on consistent water levels, Summers says. An action alert from Citizens Campaign for the Environment says that the Great Lakes replenish at a rate of 1 percent each year. If withdrawals exceed that amount, water levels will drop.