Struggle with Growth, Pollution
By Jerry Gasser
Published February 6, 2006
The Great Lakes, America's freshwater coast, continue
to struggle with the legacy of pollution, invasive species
and other ills inflicted by more than a century of population
growth, industrialization, shipping, waste and storm water
Eight Great Lakes states' governors, and officials representing
the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, signed a
pact supporting a plan to clean up the lakes and address
other problems such as water conservation and land use.
Water levels in lakes Huron, Michigan and Erie are a
constant concern. After rising to record levels in the
late 1980s, water levels sharply decreased to below historic
mean levels. Low lake levels can negatively affect commercial
navigation, recreational boating, marinas, beaches, fishing,
visitors and residents.
Urban industrial centers dominate the Great Lakes shores,
but its coasts are less threatened than burgeoning regions
in the Southeast. In fact, the region is so vast that
less than 10 percent of the 295,000-square-mile land mass
has been developed.
In Michigan's Lower Peninsula, the Huron-Manistee National
Forests and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
protect wide swaths of land. But Traverse City has been
struggling with new demands for housing, shopping, roads
and other services after the population grew 52 percent.
The Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council helped
galvanize an agreement between government, business and
environmental groups to work together toward a plan to
cope with the region's growth.
"We run the risk of becoming like the Outer Banks
if we're not careful and if we don't take advantage of
these opportunities," said Emily Green, head of the
Sierra Club's Great Lakes program.
Elsewhere, there are efforts to restore the waterfront
of the Great Lakes. In Chicago, a 600-acre parcel is being
redeveloped for residential and commercial uses.
"We have a unique opportunity to undo some of the
mistakes we've made in the past and turn our face to the
water as opposed to our backs," said Dave Ullrich,
executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence
Cities Initiative, a coalition of mayors and officials
working to clean up the Great Lakes.