Dillmans among those protecting Great Lakes water
By Diane Strand
Published May 17, 2006
This is the second in a series of stories on conserving water as a threatened resource in the 21st century.
The Great Lakes are a national treasure. But we may be loving them to death.
Joanne Dillman and her husband Dan, retired NIU presidential teaching professor of geography, are trying to protect the world’s largest concentration of fresh water through membership in the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Earlier this year, the couple hosted an NIU Learning in Retirement presentation by Radhika Shah, an outreach associate for the alliance.
Because some U.S. water-challenged states (read Southwest) have been lusting after the massive Midwest water source for years, an agreement has been signed by Canada and all states with frontage on Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie and Ontario proposing that “there will be no new water diversions” from the lakes. The agreement will have to go to state legislatures and then to Congress for approval.
Cameron Davis, president of the alliance, is optimistic about approvals. “The agreement was signed in Milwaukee on Dec. 13, and it will now go to the state legislatures, probably for consideration in 2007,” he said. “The gorilla in the closet is that Congress will step in and take action, if the states don’t support a unified set of binding water standards. And nobody wants that.”
There has been a long history of diversions from the Great Lakes. For example, in the early 1800s, there was a New York State Barge Control diverting of lake water to the Hudson River watershed. In 1959, the Great Recycling and Northern Development Canal proposed to divert Great Lakes water to Saskatchewan, the southern states and Mexico.
In 1984, there was a proposal to pipe Great Lakes water to High Plains and the Southwest, and amazingly, in 1998, Nova Group, a private company, proposed to shipping Lake Superior water to Asia in tankers.
In related comments, Shah shared some interesting statistics about the Great Lakes. For example, they hold 130 globally endangered species.
They also contain 30,000 islands.
About 4 1/2 billion gallons of untreated sewage has been dumped into Lake Michigan. One outcome is a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Sewage District.
Gains in ridding the lakes of pollution were made by the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, but mercury remains a threat and the public has been told to avoid certain kinds of fish. “The governor wants to set higher standards for mercury emissions,” Shah said.
At a time when the mercury threat is actually increasing, however, toxic hot spots have no additional funding in the president’s proposed budget. One of those hot spots is in Waukegan harbor.
Lake Michigan supports 40 percent of all U.S. Great Lakes wetlands. Shah commented on wetlands as barriers to flooding and natural filters for contaminants, but unfortunately, had to report that Michigan and Wisconsin already have lost 50 percent of their wetlands.
Humanity isn’t the only source wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes. Shah noted that zebra mussels entering the lakes from ships from the ocean “are eating everything else and messing up the food chain. They are filter feeders and cost billions of dollars in clogged pipes.
“We also must keep out of Lake Michigan sea lampray and Asian carp,” Shah said.
The Alliance stresses, “Threats to Great Lakes water security range from local overuse to misguided export schemes. Unregulated water use has stressed some Great Lakes-basin groundwater sources to the point that nearby wells fail regularly.
“In addition, private companies and others now propose selling and shipping Great Lakes water out of the basin, where it no longer can replenish the fragile ecosystem...
Take together, unlimited residential, commercial and industrial water withdrawals—along with pollution’s depletion of clean water supplies—can weaken a community’s ability to sustain residents, businesses and wildlife.”