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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wisconsin governor signs Great Lakes compact

(AP) -- Gov. Jim Doyle has signed legislation making Wisconsin the fifth state to approve an interstate compact aimed at protecting the Great Lakes.

"This historic accord means that we will be managing our Great Lakes water in a sustainable way that will protect one of the world's greatest natural resources," Doyle said during a windy ceremony Tuesday on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The compact would ban most diversions of water from the lakes' basin. Cities that straddle the basin's border or lie within counties that straddle the border could apply for an exemption. But any Great Lakes governor could block an exemption as well as withdrawals from outside the basin.

The eight Great Lakes governors signed the compact in 2005 after four years of negotiations, but it must be approved by each of the states and ratified by Congress before it can become law.

Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and New York, have now approved the measure, as have the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have yet to do so.

The pact was motivated largely by fears that states such as Arizona and Nevada in the booming but arid Southwest will try tapping into the lakes, which hold 90 percent of the nation's fresh surface water.

"People are already looking enviously at this water," Doyle said. "The Great Lakes define this region, and their waters sustain our recreation, our way of life, and our economy."

The lakes generate $55 billion a year in tourism for the region and provide more than 11,000 jobs in Wisconsin's ports, Doyle said.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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