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2008 05 13
Will The Great Lakes Be Another Aral Sea?
The Aral Sea, 2006. Now one-half its original size and hopelessly polluted.

Given that Canada is the land of glacier-fed streams, and (relatively) clean water, it is hard to imagine the Great Lakes being great no more—but it is possible. Just take a look at the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for an example of what havoc exploitative policies can cause on a seemingly robust ecosystem. We tend to think such savage exploitation will never happen here, but we also thought the Cod Fishery would go on forever, and Passenger pigeons were so plentiful that we could kill them at our pleasure.

The truth is, we are opportunistic creatures who can rationalize just about any travesty as long as there is a short-term dollar to be had, or an economic advantage to be gained. To compound a bad situation, when it comes to the environment time is our enemy, and not for the obvious reasons. No, time lets us forget what once was. Like the proverbial frog in a slowly warming pan of water, our condition is always relative to what we remember with accuracy. SInce most of us seem to suffer from advanced Alzheimer's when it comes to remembering the natural environment, will that be frog's legs anyone?

That's why when the Great Lakes Compact was made between provinces and states bordering the Great Lakes it seemed that rational thought and long-term preservation of natural resources might actually win the day. But wait:

Vegetation was faring worst along the Missouri River through North and South Dakota, but below-average vegetation conditions stretch across parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, northwestern Nebraska, and Minnesota as well. The plains of Canada’s Saskatchewan and Manitoba provinces were suffering drought, too.

The drought of 2006 swept across North America's Great Plains sucking water from the soil and threatening to bring back the "dirty thirties" or worse to the world's supposed bread basket (or is that now the world's ethanol tank). Just take a look at the map above. Turns out the Wisconsin borders Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Guess what state was unable to ratify the Great Lakes Compact. You guessed it. With all that water just sitting there, why should neighbouring farmlands have to go without?

You can hear the trumpeting now. "This is a national emergency." "We must have the water for short-term relief." "The have states must share with the have nots." I have no doubt that's what the bureaucrats managing the Aral Sea once said. But since they are all dead now, who is to know—or care? It is history, just like the Cod.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 05/13 at 01:06 PM

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