TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – When it comes to water, the 2008 presidential candidates are remarkably parched for words.

They are well aware that there are few faster ways for a candidate to get into political trouble than to wade into the sensitive subject of the water shortages afflicting large areas of the nation. That’s especially true when it comes to proposals for regional water sharing. Water-rich regions such as the Great Lakes states have long been wary that water-scarce, but politically robust regions like the Sun Belt will try to siphon off their precious resource.

Such competing regional interests are laden with political implications. The handful of states leading off the presidential nominating contests in January tentatively includes the Great Lakes state of Michigan, as well as Nevada in the desert Southwest and South Carolina and Florida in the Southeast, which is suffering a historic drought.

Several Great Lakes states, including Ohio, are also swing states certain to be top priorities in the general election.

Yet sidestepping the problem is a luxury that presidential candidates won’t have forever, Duke University political scientist David Rohde said. Population is surging in the arid West, where water shortages are chronic, and in the Southeast, where the drought has prompted spats between neighboring states.

The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of rising temperatures and evaporation rates, lack of rain, urban sprawl, waste and overuse.

Water levels of the three biggest Great Lakes – Superior, Huron and Michigan – have been in steep decline since the late 1990s. The region’s eight state legislatures are considering a compact that would prohibit sending water outside the drainage basin except to localities that straddle the boundary.

A group representing the governors of the eight Great Lakes states urged the presidential contenders last week to endorse a wide-ranging plan for protecting the lakes – including keeping them off-limits to outsiders.

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