Magazine article Sierra

Five Glacial Gifts

Magazine article Sierra

Five Glacial Gifts

Article excerpt

FROM THE RIGHT VANTAGE POINT ON A FINE SPRING day, the gleaming waters of the Great Lakes can appear limitless and incorruptible. One-fifth of the world's fresh water is held in five giant basins with a suffice area of 95,000 square miles. Together, they form a sweet inland sea.

But in recent years, residents have learned that these lakes are a closed system as sensitive to disturbances as an aquarium. Only one percent of the lakes' water trickles into the Atlantic Ocean. The rest stays within the region, cycling endlessly from stream to lake to sky to land. In such an environment pollution builds up slowly but surely, and returns to plague locals in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the fish they eat. The 40 million inhabitants of the Great Lakes area have learned this ecological lesson the hard way.

Water pollution had become so ferocious by the late 1960s that oil and garbage burst into flames on Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, and Life magazine declared Lake Erie dead. After 20 years of modern sewage treatment and stronger pollution laws, the lakes are visibly cleaner, but they are still far from pure. A century's worth of industrial muck lies at the bottom of the harbors in Gary, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and dozens of other hot spots. Air pollutants from incinerators and coal-burning utilities end up in the Great Lakes watershed, as do the pernicious poisons of the steel, chemical, and pulp-and-paper industries. It makes for a kettle of fish so foul that children as well as women in the child-bearing years are advised not to eat mature salmon, lake trout, and other fish. …

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