Minor addition to Great Lakes

Click to follow
CHILDREN at schools throughout America will have to learn a new answer to one of the most elementary questions of national geography: how many Great Lakes are there? Last week, there were five, Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario. Now, according to a Bill signed into law by President Clinton, there are six. Lake Champlain, the long, thin lake that divides the state of Vermont from the state of New York, has been elevated to the status of a Great Lake.

Not everyone is happy. Congressmen from the original Great Lake states are foremost among the critics. Lobbying against the change, Steven LaTourette, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Ohio, said if Lake Champlain ended up as a Great Lake, "I propose we rename it `Lake Plain Sham'."

Mr LaTourette is co-chairman of the congressional Great Lakes task force, entrusted with overseeing management of and funding for the lakes.

Lake Champlain, said one television commentator, is "an ice-age mud puddle that doesn't even appear on some maps".

The critics have a point, Lake Champlain is less than one-tenth of the size of the smallest Great Lake, Lake Ontario, 490sq miles compared to 7,420sq miles. It is not even attached to the Great Lakes system.

The nub of the issue, as so often, is politics, and money. The designation "Great Lake" brings with it the chance to compete for large sums of federal funding. The possibility was spotted by a Vermont Senator, Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, who managed to have "his" lake's eligibility inserted into the Bill at a late stage.

The Great Lakes states understandably fear any money spent on Lake Champlain will mean less money for them.