ST. PAUL - Legislators are close to making Minnesota the first state to endorse a compact to restrict use of Great Lakes water.
On a voice vote, senators gave preliminary approval to the issue Monday, with a final vote expected Thursday. The House already overwhelmingly approved the compact and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to sign the measure.
"With Minnesota at the headwaters of the Great Lakes, it is appropriate that we are the first to endorse the compact," said Julie O'Leary, Northeast Minnesota program coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a statewide coalition of more than 80 conservation and environmental organizations.
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, sponsored the bill and said the compact should have little impact on Minnesota because the state has far more stringent restrictions than under the compact.
The proposal, which must be approved by the other seven states bordering the Great Lakes before taking effect, restricts how much water businesses, industries, cities and others can remove from the lakes. It also sets other environmental standards for the lakes' water.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the compact would restrict decisions Minnesota could make about Lake Superior, the only one of the Great Lakes to border the state.
"Is there an escape clause?" asked Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.
Rest explained that a majority of states in the compact would have to agree before the compact is dissolved.
The issue is one of the top priorities for environmental groups this year.
"Lake Superior's North Shore is home for 150,000 Minnesotans, a destination for millions of people annually, and part of the foundation for Minnesota's economy," said Martha Brand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. "While it may seem limitless and invulnerable, the health of Lake Superior cannot be taken for granted."