ARCHIVE: Great Lakes Update: Midsummer Status Report

This post is originally from July 2014. 

There’s nothing better than spending on summer day on the water. In the Midwest that means a kayak trip in Lake Superior, day sailing on Lake Michigan, fishing on Lake Huron, canoeing on Lake Erie and scuba diving in Lake Ontario. So what’s being done to care for the Great Lakes?

Earlier this summer President Obama proposed a five-year plan that improves protection of the Great Lakes. This plan will continue to research and solve problems such as, invasive species, loss of habitat, runoff that causes blue green algae and will consider how climate change plays a role in these issues. Accepting that climate change is playing a factor shows lots of growth, while we think about how to solve these complex problems. In addition to this plan, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to fund over 2,000 programs at non-profits and universities that address these same issues.

Just a few weeks ago the Illinois legislation voted on the issue of micro beads in cosmetics such as shampoos and body washes. Legislation, environmentalist and the manufacturers agree that the plastic beads need to be phased out. These plastic beads get washed down our drains and end up in our lakes and water systems and in the bellies of fish, birds and other wildlife. These beads are just the tip of the iceberg, after discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the amount of waste in the oceans; research teams took a closer look in the Great Lakes and found that the plastic found in Lake Erie was twice as much as the average amount of plastic found in the oceans, per square mile. Phasing out cosmetics that use plastic micro beads will help reduce this pollution.

Using a penny to scale, this is the size of the plastic micro beads found in the Great Lakes. 

Back in February, Beacon readers learned about the Great Lakes Water Compactand it’s dedication to conserving the water and resources of the Great Lakes. Counties and cities within the Great Lakes water basin, areas where the water naturally drains into, are permitted to use, drink and draw water from the Great Lakes. The city of Waukesha lies outside this basin and last summer requested permission to draw water from Lake Michigan for their residents. Their current supply is not only running low but also becoming contaminated.

Right now the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is going over the application. All eight states and both Canadian providences also need to approve of the application. One major reason why many governors and states are not in favor of this application because Waukesha does not only intend for this water to supply current residents, but also for residents as the city expands, about 45% more water than they use now.

For the last few decades, the biggest issue around the Great Lakes is water levels. The last decade or so has seen the lowest levels in years, but this year Midwesterners are seeing a rise in water levels. Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are all up about a foot higher than they were last summer and Lakes Ontario and Erie are up a half a foot from last summer. Reasons for this include the large amount of snow and ice cover this last winter and heavy rains this summer. This rise in water levels not only gives lake lovers more to appreciate, but it’s also good for the cargo ships, fishermen, tourism among other industries.

Environmental problems are complex, there is not one simple answer and none of these issues are solved over night, but taking victories like the ones mentioned in this article show that solutions do exist. It’s great news that the government is working on plans to protect our natural resources and it’s even better news that organizations and nonprofits are working on it too. Many of these programs have volunteer opportunities allowing anyone to get involved. Plastic pollution in our lakes is an issue you can tackle the next time you go shopping. When you purchase shampoo, body wash or lotions read the label carefully to make sure they’re using salts or organic materials such as fruit seeds or pits. As the summer continues to get hotter, hopefully anyway, we’ll need to be mindful of our water usage to help conserve the water in the Great Lakes. We’re getting closer with each victory, stay positive folks!

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