Richardson Angers Environmentalists and Voters in Great Lakes States

Bill Richardson showed lots of promise earlier in the campaign but a series of gaffes has prevented his campaign from gaining any traction. This week Richardson angered voters in the great lakes region by suggesting that the water be diverted to the southwest:

Michigan environmental activists Thursday accused New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson of suggesting that northern states — including the Great Lakes region — share water with the Sun Belt.

“Richardson’s assault is the latest in a lengthy list of schemes to siphon Great Lakes water to other areas of the nation and the world,” said five groups, including the Michigan Environmental Council and the state chapter of the Sierra Club, in a written statement.

A spokesman for Richardson, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said if elected he would “embrace a national water policy that will specifically help protect the authority of states and the rights of local communities throughout the country.”

Nevada’s Jan. 9 presidential caucus is second in the nation, and Richardson is making the state a top target. An eight-year drought is causing water shortages there and in the six other states that tap the Colorado River.

In an Oct. 4 story, the Las Vegas Sun quoted Richardson as saying that as president he would encourage northern states with plenty of water to help those with shortages in the Southwest.

“I want a national water policy,” he said. “We need a dialogue between states to deal with issues like water conservation, water reuse technology, water delivery and water production.

States like Wisconsin are awash in water.”

He did not refer specifically to the Great Lakes. But his remark about Wisconsin — one of the eight Great Lakes states — touched a nerve in neighboring Michigan.

Water levels have fallen across the upper Great Lakes since the late 1990s. Lake Superior’s level in September was the lowest on record for that month.

“Governor Richardson apparently understands neither the dynamics of a Great Lakes ecosystem that renews its water at a rate of only 1 percent each year, nor the globally significant resource that the Great Lakes represent,” said David Holtz, spokesman for Clean Water Action.

Environmentalists said Richardson’s comments underscored the need for the Great Lakes states to ratify a pending compact that would outlaw most diversions of water from the region.

Richardson subsequently backed down on this idea but has probably destroyed any remote chances he might have had to win in the Great Lakes states.

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