Prayer Time for the Great Lakes

Despite a desert landscape, limited water supplies, and the fastest population growth rate in the nation, Arizona is not looking to tap Great Lakes water as the region's environmentalists and elected officials fear, Governor Janet Napolitano declared at a press conference in Northern Michigan over the weekend.

But that doesn't mean Great Lakes leaders can relax efforts to improve water resource stewardship. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Governor Napolitano's words actually should motivate the region's policy makers, industry leaders, and activists to raise the level of debate and accelerate efforts to establish a future-oriented water policy for the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world. The region's competitiveness depends on it.

You see, Arizona has launched a comprehensive economic development plan to invest in water-tech innovation, tap the increasingly lucrative water conservation business, and generate thousands of jobs in addition to sustainable supplies of fresh water.

Gov. Napolitano is paying attention to Colorado River water. But instead of building pipes and pumps to divert vast amounts of H2O from neighboring states and regions, the Grand Canyon State is also focused on a strategy - with clear goals, specific objectives, and startup funding - to cultivate new ideas that advance the science of resource management, commercialize cutting-edge water friendly equipment, and deploy the new technology not only in Arizona but around the world.

Beyond securing water supplies for local growth, the overarching goal is to attract high-tech companies, generate good paying jobs, lure talented workers, and boost competitiveness in the knowledge economy.

"The advantage we have as a desert state is that we have always managed water," Gov. Napolitano said at the press conference in Traverse City to kickoff the annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

"Where innovation is concerned," Gov. Napolitano added, "we're looking at new ways of conservation and new technologies that can be employed so that, even as our population grows, we are able to manage our water accordingly. And that does not mean taking it from the Great Lakes."

"Amen sister," replied Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, reminding Midwest citizens to say a prayer for a similiarly visionary strategy to leverage the Great Lakes water assets and expertise to drive growth. The region's leaders rarely, if ever, use the words 'innovate' and 'Great Lakes' or 'water' in the same sentence. For many of them, the intersection of Great Lakes policy and economic development policy is defined narrowly as tourism or sport fishing.

Meanwhile, states like Arizona demonstrate how economic competitiveness in the 21st century can be shaped by researching, developing, and deploying new ideas as opposed to the 20th century model of extracting and exploiting natural resources.

At least as far as water is concerned, that way of thinking remains slow to catch on in the Great Lakes Basin, where the bottled water industry is rapidly expanding and activists, policy makers, and media focus almost exclusively on protectionist treaties while ignoring the potential for world-changing ideas, products, and services that propel more globally sustainable water use.