Shifting Sands: The Restoration of the Calumet Area

By Kenneth J. Schoon | Go to book overview

11
LAKE MICHIGAN HEALTH,
BEACH CLOSURES, AND FISHING

THE FIVE GREAT LAKES CONTAIN ABOUT l8 PERCENT OF THE world’s supply of fresh water and 90 percent of the fresh water in the United States.1 Lake Michigan’s deepest section is 925 feet below the surface; it is the second largest of the Great Lakes in terms of volume and is the Calumet Area’s greatest resource. But Lake Michigan has been degraded over the years by pollutants entering the lake via its tributaries as well as from the air, ships and boats plying its waters, and occasional dumping. The lake has been invaded by exotic animal species that have either swum upstream into the lake or been brought into it unintentionally by anglers dumping unused bait or water or by oceangoing ships dumping their ballast water.

Chicago and all the Northwest Indiana lakefront cities get their drinking water from the lake. Although over the years most of these cities’ wastewater has been dumped, not into the lake, but into the Calumet Rivers, most of these rivers eventually flowed into the lake and thus so did the sewage. Chicago was the first city to react to this unwise action, but rather than treat its sewage (as Worcester, Massachusetts, was already doing) it dredged and excavated the upper Chicago River and made the river reverse directions, flowing out of Lake Michigan and down toward Saint Louis via the Illinois River.

Up until the early part of the twentieth century, all the lakefront cities piped raw water from the lake and distributed it to customers completely untreated. Although most bacteria are harmless and some are useful, the presence of pathogenic bacteria in water causes diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid. It was already known by 1920 that bacteria were a cause of contagious diseases, yet for decades none of the area’s water-

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