“ Protecting the world's greatest freshwater resource and the communities that depend upon it ”

Great Lakes Compact

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is the regional policy success story of the decade.  The Great Lakes compact is a legally binding agreement between the eight Great Lake states (there is also a non-binding companion agreement that includes the Canadian Great Lakes provinces) that prevents most diversions of Great Lakes water out of the region and establishes new water conservation and environmental protection standards for water use within the region.  Under the Great Lakes compact, the world’s largest freshwater resource is protected and managed pursuant to minimum standards administered primarily under the authority of individual states.  The Great Lakes compact puts riparian water use rules and environmental protection standards into a proactive public law regime.  The standards represent numerous advances in the development of water use law, including uniform treatment of ground and surface water withdrawals, water conservation, return flow, and prevention of environmental impacts.

The significance of the Great Lakes compact goes beyond water protection.  It sets a precedent for the region coming together around our common values and interests.  The Great Lakes compact was approved by all eight Great Lakes states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York).  The skeptics said that these states would never agree on anything.  But in December 2005, after a thorough public process that generated over ten thousand citizen and stakeholder comments, all eight Great Lakes governors put aside partisan and geographic differences and reached a deal.  State lawmakers carefully considered the Great Lakes compact and gave it nearly unanimous support.  Congress acted quickly and with strong bipartisan leadership both the Senate and House approved the Great Lakes compact.  President Bush signed it into law on October 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center will continue working with the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus, and numerous regional, state, and local environmental organizations to implement the Great Lakes compact through state programs and make sure that it is enforced to protect our water resources.

Additional resources on the Great Lakes compact:

  •     Great Lakes Law updates on the Great Lakes compact
  •     Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact
  •     Council of Great Lakes Governors compact implementation website – an excellent resource with background documents and state implementation legislation
  •     Testimony of Noah Hall on behalf of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center on “Interstate Water Management and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact” for the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
  •     Noah Hall, "Toward a New Horizontal Federalism: Interstate Water Management in the Great Lakes Region," 77 Colorado Law Review 405 (2006) – a comprehensive article that includes a history of Great Lakes interstate water management and a detailed analysis of the Great Lakes compact
  •     Peter Annin, Great Lakes Water Wars (Island Press, 2006) – the leading book on the history of Great Lakes diversion conflicts and the prospects for cooperation under the Great Lakes compact