TRAVERSE CITY -- Fresh water is essential to life. And the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan make up about 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water.

Area environmentalists believe management of local and regional threats to that critical resource likely will have worldwide implications, concerns that prompted them to plan a forum to discuss the plight of the Great Lakes.

The forum, dubbed Great Lakes for Sale, begins Friday at the Waterfront Conference Center, 2061 U.S. 31 North, with registration at 9 a.m. and sessions throughout the day.

"We are on the shores of one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world and the eyes are turning to us, for one, as a resource, and two, on how we are stewards of our Great Lakes water," said J. Carl Ganter, director of nonprofit project Circle of Blue, and one of several speakers for the forum Great Lakes for Sale.

"The Great Lakes are facing huge challenges, from infrastructure of outdated sewer and wastewater facilities, to invasive species, to persistent pollution," Ganter said.

The Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council will host the forum, and a variety of experts will speak on everything from local water challenges to the legal issues of Great Lakes management.

NMEAC will award its annual Environmentalist of the Year honor at a dinner ceremony following the forum.

Central to the forum is the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, a proposed water management agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes. Local environmental attorney Jim Olson will speak about the legal aspects of the compact, which aims to manage Great Lakes water by protecting against diversions and encouraging conservation.

"We thought it was pretty timely ... because the compact is being contemplated in the Legislature of Michigan," said John Nelson, baykeeper for the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. "It is a thirsty world and ... we need to conserve if we are going to legitimately talk to people about not diverting our water."

Grenetta Thomassey, policy director for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, said about half of the eight Great Lakes states have signed onto the compact and two competing bills currently are under consideration in Michigan's House and Senate.

Lansing legislators generally agree on the compact in principal, Thomassey said, but details of an accompanying state bill regulating water withdrawal are less clear.

"We are going to discuss why the Great Lakes compact should be passed in Michigan and also what the ... state legislation should aim to do. This is an ongoing battle in Lansing right now," she said. "Do we just do the minimum requirements of the compact or do we take some steps further?"

To preregister for Great Lakes for Sale or for more information on the forum call NMEAC at 947-3280.

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