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Great Lakes Article:

Study: Half of lakes in peril
Great Lakes also feared endangered by airborne toxins

By Lee Bowman /
Article courtesy of Scripps Howard News Service

November 14, 2001


   SHIGA, Japan -- More than half the world's 5 million lakes are being dried up or polluted to the point of ecological collapse, according to experts meeting at an international conference on lake conservation this week.
   Lakes hold nearly 90 percent of all surface freshwater, yet they are "among the most vulnerable and difficult to restore of all natural ecological systems. They have been widely ignored, even as they have deteriorated," said Masahisa Nakamura, director of the Lake Biwa Research Institute in Shiga, Japan, where the ninth International Conference on the Conservation and Management of Lakes is being held.
   The conference is part of a series of meetings being held in advance of a World Water Forum in 2003.
   The amount of water in freshwater lakes is 35 times more than what's found in rivers, yet they can quickly vanish. For instance, 543 significant lakes in China disappeared when their water was diverted for irrigation between 1950 and 1980.
   In industrialized countries, shallow lakes are the most endangered, especially in areas of intensive farming or population growth. The most dramatic example of this in the United States is Lake Okeechobee in Florida, half the size of Rhode Island, but with an average depth of 10 feet. Controlling and tapping its flow has drawn down much of the lake and adversely affected the Everglades.
   The Aral Sea between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan has dropped from being the world's fourth largest lake to eighth largest because of heavy withdrawals for irrigation.
   Even the Great Lakes of North America remain at risk because of to airborne toxins, invasive species and periodic proposals to divert water from them, although direct water pollution from the United States and Canada has been markedly reduced in recent decades.
   William Cosgrove, vice-president of the World Water Council, which is sponsoring the meetings, said successful lake recoveries can only take place "if citizens who are affected get involved. They need to understand that what they do in a lake's basin, the runoff from their lands and activities, determines the health of that lake."
   While people from the developing world are more directly dependent on lakes than residents of industrialized countries, Cosgrove notes that most campaigns to rescue lakes have been in wealthier nations that have the resources to build wastewater treatment plants and carry out restoration efforts.
   Once a lake becomes degraded, it can take decades to restore water quality.

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