The Senate has voted to ratify a compact to prevent the diversion of water from the Great Lakes, quickly approving legislation sought by the region’s governors worried that thirsty places would covet one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water.

The Senate passed the measure without objection, and it now awaits action in the House. President Bush has said he will sign it into law, and both major presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have said they support it.

“Senate passage of this compact will help us protect the Great Lakes from water diversions and preserve this invaluable resource for future generations,” says Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the bill’s chief sponsor.

The agreement, negotiated by eight Great Lakes states, prevents countries or remote states from tapping into the lakes from their natural drainage basin with rare exceptions. In addition, states would be required to regulate their own large-scale water use and promote conservation. Michigan was the final state to approve the pact last month.

Sen. George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican and co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force with Levin, says the best way to preserve and protect the lakes is “by passing and enacting the Great Lakes Compact and keeping control of the lakes in the hands of the states that surround them and value them the most.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), says the compact “will protect the health of these precious bodies of fresh water, preventing unnecessary and dangerous diversions of Great Lakes waters. I know the people of Wisconsin feel strongly about the importance of preserving the lakes for future generations.”

The National Wildlife Federation urged the House to quickly follow the Senate’s lead, but that will have to wait later in September, when Congress returns from its recess. The compact was approved by the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s time to seal the deal and protect our lakes, our drinking water, our economy and our way of life,” proclaims Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the federation’s Great Lakes office.

Cameron Davis, president of Alliance for the Great Lakes, says the Senate’s quick action shows that Congress recognizes the Great Lakes “as a national icon.”