The Council of Canadians is calling on Prime Minister Paul Martin to intervene and scrap a draft agreement that allows for water to be diverted from the Great Lakes, claiming it is water grab by the United States.
"We are vehemently opposed to this," said Sara Ehrhardt, spokeswoman for the 100,000-member group.
The Canadian government has abdicated its responsibility to protect the Great Lakes, she told a public meeting Monday night to discuss the draft agreement. But now it is time for the federal government to protect one of Canada's most important natural resources, she said.
"I have a message in a bottle for Paul Martin," she said as she held up an empty water bottle. "It reads: 'Save the Great Lakes. Say No to Diversion.'"
Ehrhardt was one of about 30 people who spoke at the forum, one in a series of public consultations being held in Ontario, Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states to discuss the implications of a proposal known as the Implementing Agreement for Annex 2001.
The proposal is intended to protect and restore the Great Lakes, according to the Council of Great Lake Governors. The body consists of the premiers of Quebec and Ontario and the governors of Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Its authors say the agreement is designed to "protect, conserve, restore and improve the Great Lake Basins for future generations."
The proposal establishes a number of protocols, including a minimum environmental standard to regulate proposed diversion and consumption of water. It also sets up a process for hearing any regional disputes and calls for enhanced information-gathering and reporting on the status of the Great Lakes.
Its authors say the proposal will not mean any large-scale diversions from the lakes.
However, many critics say they do not believe the agreement will protect the Great Lakes at all. Ehrhardt said the proposal will not only allow for massive diversion of water but also potentially hurt the ecosystem.
"With only 1 percent of the Great Lakes waters being renewed every year, the science is still out on whether we are already consuming more than can be replenished," she said. "Experts warn that, if implemented, the annex could lead to an environmental disaster."
Ehrhardt said the draft agreement also "undermines Canada's jurisdiction over the Great Lakes and erodes our authority over this shared resource. This is nothing more than a U.S. scheme to drain our Great Lakes dry."