Environmental Issues · The Great Lakes

This lake is my lake; this lake is your lake…

Our lakes are in trouble, which threatens to drag down an already stressed economy in the Great Lakes region.

A study was released this month by the National Wildlife Federation called- Feast and Famine in the Great Lakes: How Nutrients and Invasive Species Interact to Overwhelm the Coasts and Starve Offshore Waters, about the greatest problems happening within the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. The study notes that about 1.5 million jobs in the United States are associated with the Great Lakes in some way.

The issues within the Great Lakes revolve around a tug of war pull between a nutrient rich and nutrient deprived lake system.

How can there be both you ask?

The report explains there is too much nutrient near shore from all the surface runoff pouring into the lakes, and the essential nutrients are not able to reach the deeper depths of the lake. This is due in part to the zebra and quagga mussels that hitched a ride to the Great Lakes some few decades ago. They are everywhere within the Great Lakes, filtering water and holding the nutrient load near shore. With the filtered water providing sunlight and the abundant amounts of phosphorus available near the shore, the algae are able to thrive, especially now that water temperatures have increased.

When the nutrients are trapped near shore, fish and plant life beyond the shoreline are left starving. So what you have is explosive and dangerous algae blooms, too many mussels, and fish not getting what they need to survive and flourish.

Once the algae eventually die, it sinks and sucks up the available oxygen. This causes what the report calls “dead zones” in the deeper depths of the lake. Fish then have even less of a chance for survival with both oxygen and nutrients being depleted within their ecosystem.

The landscape surrounding the Great Lakes is very different than it was hundreds of years ago. Urban, industrial and agricultural land covers what were once miles and miles of trees and wetlands. The barriers that once kept the lakes protected are now mostly gone, making it harder to keep the lakes healthy. Of course, people will continue to populate the land, but there are things that can be done to give the lakes a better chance.

So the story of our lakes cannot end here. Not only are there millions of people that rely on the Great Lakes for income, but there are millions more that care about and enjoy the beauty and recreation these lakes provide, and rely on the resources supplied by the Great Lakes.

Read this report from National Wildlife Federation to learn more about what the lakes are worth, how our lakes are changing, and what is being done about it: Feast and Famine in the Great Lakes: How Nutrients and Invasive Species Interact to Overwhelm the Coasts and Starve Offshore Waters

Here is a list of programs and organizations provided by the study that are working on Great Lakes issues:

 The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Clean Water Act

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

U.S. Farm Bill

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs)

International Reference Group on Great Lakes Pollution from Land Use Activities (PLUARG)

Environment Canada

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA)

International Joint Commission (IJC)

References: Feast and Famine in the Great Lakes: How Nutrients and Invasive Species Interact to Overwhelm the Coasts and Starve Offshore Waters

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