Use is an issue in Great Lakes,
top fresh water source in U.S.
By Mike Danahey
The Courier News
In the West and Southwest there is debate over who has
use of water from the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.
Water from the Ogallala aquifer in the nation's heartland
is consumed faster than nature can replenish it. Droughts
on the East Coast last year meant extensive water rationing.
With population growth and shifts and greater demand
from consumers and industries, water supplies across the
country are under stress. And although the Great Lakes
contain more than 90 percent of the fresh water in the
United States and about 20 percent of the world's fresh
water supply, there is concern about their use as a resource,
According to the Great Lakes Commission/International
Joint Commission, users in Illinois consume about 100
million gallons of Great Lakes water a day, or 4 percent
of the water taken out of the lakes by surrounding states
and provinces each day. Ontario, Canada, consumes 675
million gallons a day, while Michigan takes 525 million
gallons per day from the lakes. About 29 percent of the
water is used for irrigation, 28 percent by public water
supplies and 24 percent by industries.
More actually is used, but these are the amounts that
don't make it back into the water system, explained Gary
Heinlein, a reporter for The Detroit News. He worked with
other staff for two months on a series, "Water Pressures:
Protecting the Great Lakes," which ran earlier this
Lakes hold lots of water
While the 2.5 billion gallons a day draining from the
lakes might seem like a huge amount, it pales next to
the sheer volume the lakes hold. The U.S. Geological Survey
estimates that to be 6 quadrillion gallons of water, or
enough to put the whole country 10 feet under water —
the height of a regulation basketball hoop.
Although there have been attempts to export Great Lakes
water to other places, right now there isn't a lot of
out of pressure on them to do so, said Heinlein.
But that doesn't mean the lakes aren't facing perils.
Potential trouble stems from there being no binding agreement
between the states and Canadian provinces that border
the Great Lakes on how to manage the resource. There is
the Great Lakes Charter Annex 2001, an agreement to work
out guidelines, and work is being done to give the document
teeth. But right now it offers little protection for the
Great Lakes, Heinlein said.
According to USA Today, "the lack of uniform regulations
in the region has led to wide disparities in how much
water is drawn from the Great Lakes and how it can be
The paper states that Milwaukee makes $72 million a
year by selling Lake Michigan water to its suburbs. The
Indiana-American Water Co. has a 3-mile-wide tunnel it
uses to pump 60 million gallons of water a day to 250,000
users in northwest Indiana, but it pays nothing for taking
the water out of Lake Michigan. Indiana requires no permit
to draw water from the lake; Minnesota requires a permit
of anyone taking more than 10,000 gallons, USA Today states.
Levels lowest since the '60s
Though attributed to evaporation, weather cycles and
patterns, at the same time, the water levels in the lakes
are at the lowest point since the 1960s. According to
The Standard of St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, in May,
Lakes Michigan and Huron were down the most, each 13.6
inches below their long-term averages. Some scientists
are predicting further, drastic recession, meaning continued
problems for resorts, recreational boaters and freighters,
not to mention the ecosystem.
Heinlein noted, too, that population centers along the
Great Lakes such as Toronto are seeing booms, putting
more burden on them as a water source.
"A lot of people think the Great Lakes are an endless
resource," said Cheryl Mendoza, project manager for
the Chicago-based Lake Michigan Federation. "Really,
they are a gift from the glaciers and for the most part
Yet, she said, the region can meets its water needs
if it is wise in how in conserves.