Citizens and environmental groups are re-filing their petition to the NAFTA environmental Secretariat, called the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), to conduct an independent inquiry into the Devils Lake water diversion fiasco. Last round, the citizens and groups asked for the investigation to focus on the failure of Canada and the U.S. to refer the devilish conflict to the scrutiny of the International Joint Commission (IJC). The controversy is a result of a plan to divert water from the large lake in North Dakota into a river system that flows northward into Manitoba’s Red River and then into Lake Winnipeg.
The first petition was rejected as the CEC felt that because a referral to the IJC by either country is voluntary in nature, the pollution issue is beyond the CEC’s scope of investigation.
The revised petition narrows the inquiry to the failure of the two countries to enforce the absolute prohibition on transboundary water pollution mandated by the international Boundary Waters Treaty.
“The Boundary Waters Treaty is the main line of defence against transboundary water pollution for our countries” says Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth. “Today the conflict is over polluted water flowing from the U.S. into Canada; tomorrow the conflict could be over polluted water flowing in the other direction. Concerned citizens on both sides of the border should be shocked and appalled that both federal governments are dishonouring the Treaty’s anti-pollution measures.”
The Devils Lake outlet flowed only 10 days last year due to elevated sulphate loadings; it has yet to be allowed to flow this year. The State of North Dakota has requested a change in the outlet’s operating permit to allow operation with higher levels of contaminants.
“Devils Lake is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to transboundary water pollution,” says Robert Wright, counsel with Sierra Legal, which represents the citizens and groups. “While climate change may melt the real icebergs, you can be sure it will increase transboundary water conflicts along our 5,000 kilometre shared border. Citizens of both countries deserve to know whether or not the Treaty is a real defence against transboundary water pollution.”
The NAFTA environmental Secretariat, the CEC, will make a decision shortly on whether the Boundary Water Treaty’s anti water pollution measures are enforceable and whether to ask the two governments to respond to the submission.