As clean, fresh water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity in many parts of the world, the fear is that thirsty eyes are turning toward the Great Lakes.

In 1998, a group of entrepreneurs won approval from Ontario to export Lake Superior water to Asia. And others discussed pumping Great Lakes water to the depleted Oglala aquifer in the Great Plains. Neither effort went anywhere.

But given that the dry southwestern United States is developing at a rapid clip and gaining congressional seats while the Great Lakes region is losing them, Great Lakes governors and Canadian premiers decided in 2001 to prevent any future large-scale water sales.

Final drafts of two agreements that would attempt to limit water diversions are to be finished by the end of the year.

Though no large-scale diversions are currently on the table, smaller battles over water diversion are raging.

The groundwater in Waukesha, Wis., is contaminated with radium so local officials have said they want to tap Lake Michigan. But because the town is outside the Great Lakes basin, it cannot access the water without approval from all eight governors of the states bordering the lakes. A legal fight is expected.

In Michigan, activists are furious that Nestle Waters North America is pumping water for its Ice Mountain brand from an aquifer that feeds Lake Michigan. A judge ordered Nestle to stop pumping, but an appeals court sided with Nestle. Then in May, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) used the rules process to require permits for pumping bottled water, and to mandate that water pumped in Michigan cannot be sold outside the Great Lakes basin.

"The Great Lakes are a gift left over from the glaciers that melted over 10,000 years ago," said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "Less than 1 percent of their water is replenished each year through rain and melting snow. The myth was that the Great Lakes go on forever, we know now that's not true."

-- Kari Lydersen