Sikkema Issues Water Diversion Warning

May 15, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — If the growing population of the American Southwest one day decides to tap the Great Lakes to irrigate its arid reaches, Michigan will have lots of allies to prevent such a step.

So says State Sen. Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville), who sees an alliance of industrialists, retailers, environmentalists, unions, chambers of commerce and shipping lines, to name a few.

But when that day comes — and he believes it will, as the nation's population and the center of political gravity continues to shift toward the Southwest — the important question will be what the law says.

And right now, he warns, the law says bupkis.

Sikkema admits the idea of transporting the contents of Lake Michigan to Phoenix sounds far-fetched. But acquaintances tell him that the idea is conceptually feasible, thanks to the many natural gas pipelines that cross-cross the nation.

In fact, he intends to hold a Senate hearing sometime soon to ascertain, among other things, whether that's just a pipe-dream or a technically and even financially feasible possibility. Or whether technological developments ever can make it so.

But what is not a pipe dream, he stresses, is that the 2000 Census shows that the eight Great Lakes states will lose nine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002. Meanwhile the Southwest, what he calls "the thirsty states," is gaining nine seats.

"That's a swing of 18 votes in Congress," he said. "And that probably won't be the last."

The ?-term state senator doesn't believe any meaningful attempt at Great Lakes water diversion will occur in this decade.

But another swing in population at the end of 2010 at the end of 2010— and consequent further reshaping of Congress—could presage such a move.

He believes, therefore, the Great Lakes states should spend the intervening decade positioning themselves to preserve control over the lakes by crafting the necessary legal authority. He also believes that Canada's obvious interest in the Great Lakes ought to come into play.

Moreover, he said, Michigan should take the lead in developing such legislation since it is the most potentially affected of the eight states.

Michigan has more Great Lakes shoreline than any of the other seven states.

Sikkema said Michigan Governor John Engler and his colleagues in the other states all are concerned about possible diversion of Great Lakes water, but as far as he knows, the legislatures of the other states aren't focused on the issue. In fact, it's difficult to imagine the legislatures of either Pennsylvania or Indiana ever getting terribly worked up over the issue. The keystone state has one shoreline county; Indiana only three.

For that matter, he added, the Michigan legislature also has its mind on other questions, which is why he plans to hold a hearing.

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