Deadline Now: Great Lakes Issues
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Deadline Now: Great Lakes Issues

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jack Lessenberry digs into a variety of issues related to the Great Lakes and its watersheds with Kenneth Kilbert, Director of the University of Toledo College of Law's Legal Institute of the Great Lakes, Keith Kompoltwicz, Meteorologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Steve Pollick, Outdoors Editor for The Blade.

Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of Deadline Now:

If we do anything that permanently damages or destroys any of the Great Lakes, life as we’ve known it will end forever in this part of the world. That’s not an overstatement, just a matter of fact.

The Great Lakes are the largest body of fresh water in the world. They contain ninety percent of North America’s fresh water supply, and they are why large populations are concentrated here.

Over the past century and a half, we have sadly mistreated the lakes. We’ve polluted them and used them as a toilet. We’ve stirred up things with dredging, and filled their waters with invasive species.

We blindly assumed they were so vast that none of this could possibly make a serious dent in them, that they’d always regenerate themselves.  Well, there is no longer any excuse for thinking that.
Anyone who thinks there’s no threat to Lake Erie from unlimited water withdrawals should go to Kazakhstan, and study the Aral Sea. Fifty years ago, this was a giant freshwater lake, teeming with fish, three times the size of Lake Erie. But in the decades since, it has been utterly destroyed. Ninety percent of the water is gone, and abandoned fishing vessels lie scattered on a polluted and abandoned lake bed. The local economy has been destroyed and there are monumental health problems. The causes of this disaster are complex, but the biggest seems to be that vast amounts of water were pumped out by first, the Soviet, then the Kazakh governments on a misguided attempt to irrigate cotton fields.

Agriculture chemical pollution runoffs also contributed to first killing the fish and then poisoning the land, in a manner similar to the way phosphorous has affected Lake Erie. The Kazakh government is now attempting to restore the lake, but the outlook isn’t hopeful.

We never want to find out what it would be like if we allowed that to happen to Lake Erie -- or to risk sport and commercial fishing being destroyed by hundred-pound Asian bighead carp. 

This may sound trite, but when it comes to anything environmental, it might be a good idea to keep in mind the immortal words of the songwriter Joni Mitchell, who observed “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.”

That’s especially true when you can never get it back.