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2008 03 05
Protecting The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a precious legacy preserved in geologic time. Formed by glacial ice over millennia, the lakes contain enough fresh water that if emptied they’d cover the entire Untied States to a depth of nine and a half feet (and there are certain groups who like that idea, and would make it happen a few million litres at a time). Not surprisingly, names for this liquid treasure range from the obvious “Great Lakes” to the more poetic “sweet water” and the explorer-daunting, “inland sea.” No matter what their name, the lakes have no equal anywhere on earth.

That’s why they are such an attraction, and such a target. In a recent interview Canada’s Maude Barlow commented

This notion that we’ll have water forever is wrong. California is running out. It’s got 20-some years of water. New Mexico has got 10, although they’re building golf courses as fast as they can, so maybe they can whittle that down to five. Arizona, Florida, even the Great Lakes now, there’s huge new demand.

The Sierra Club of Canada is a active protector of this precious resource. In partnership with other North American environmental groups, the club is acting to ensure our politicians do everything they can to preserve the lakes. But, as the Ontario chapter of the club writes, the fresh water is challenged by:

  • cities dump untreated sewage into the Great Lakes in enormous quantities
  • Canadian industries emit more than 1 billion kilograms of pollutants to the air, and on a perfacility basis, release far more than their U.S. counterparts
  • ocean-going vessels are responsible for at least 65% of the now over 180 invasive species wreaking havoc on Great Lakes native species
  • water levels in Lakes Huron, Michgan and Superior are well below normal, with Lake Superior surpassing its recond low set in 1926
  • unsuitable urban development is destroying sensitive wildlife habitat. Projections are that by 2030, 3 million more people will live in Lake Ontario’s basin, which could greatly increase these development pressures.

In spite of these threats, as a species we seem to think that if we can see a thing in its entirety we also understand it. The overarching view from space in the above photo gives that impression. We control this thing is its unstated subtext. Yet, we know that the idea is absurd. The lakes are in many ways an expression of the complexity found in each one of us because as some speculate water molecules from, say, Georgian Bay, at some time have been part of everyone—no matter where on earth. This visceral relationship between water and humans cannot be understood simply in a means and ends way, as a resource to be commodified and sold off. The lakes are mythic truths about our evolution that wet Ontario’s shores every day. Those truths are beyond priceless, they are worth protecting anyway we can.

[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 03/05 at 07:49 AM

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