Everything runs on water - our bodies, farms, power plants, cities and economies all rely on a safe and dependable supply of water.
Yet while 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only .03 percent of it is accessible and drinkable – and this limited resource is under tremendous pressure, according to a new awareness campaign #liquidcourage from the Nature Conservancy.
“Many places in the world do not have enough water to meet their need for food, power and human consumption; in other places, development and economic activities are polluting water supplies,” the environmental nonprofit organization reports. “Today, almost two billion people don’t have access to water and by 2030 some say we will need 40 percent more water than we can easily access.”
Would it surprise you to learn that the Nature Conservancy found that more than 77 percent of Americans don’t know where their water comes from?
Yet for many of us in Northwest Indiana, the answer is simple: Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan is the third largest of all the Great Lakes, the second largest by volume, and the largest body of fresh water entirely within the boundaries of the US. There are 1,640 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline extending along the borders of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Approximately 10 million people rely on Lake Michigan for drinking water, and countless more appreciate it as a recreational resource including beachgoers, naturalists, boaters and anglers. Along with being a valued natural resource, Lake Michigan is also an important economic asset – not just for business and industry through the use of water for commerce, but also for homeowners.
Many of the most pressing environmental issues facing water quality in Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes as a whole are pollution from rain or melting snow runoff carrying a mix of chemicals from agricultural and urban resources to the accidental spilling of fuel from vessels or chemicals in wastewater discharged from factories, any chemicals or compounds expelled into the air from smokestacks, fires, pesticides and automobile emissions eventually falling back down to earth directly or through precipitation, wastewater overflowing after heavy rains and whatever gets left behind following a day at the beach or on the water.
In addition, thriving invasive species/disappearing native species plus the development of natural wetlands, which can be thought of as the kidneys of the earth because they filter and extract pollutants from the water as it passes through them while alleviating flooding and controlling erosion.
Plus, recent concerns about the potential of an invasive Asian Carp migration into Lake Michigan, and subsequently the rest of the Great Lakes, has focused even greater attention on Lake Michigan since it is the connection between the Mississippi River system (including the Illinois River) and the rest of the Great Lakes.
With the exception of the polar ice caps, the Great Lakes system is the largest source of fresh surface water on earth – encompassing about 21 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and 84 percent of North America’s.
According to the Nature Conservancy, over $60 billion a year is spent to build new infrastructure that treats and cleans our water. However, the cheapest and most effective way to ensure clean water is often to protect it at its source – before it gets polluted.
Here are a few of the household tips for protecting and improving the water quality of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes from the Alliance for the Great Lakes. They suggest selecting two steps from the list to get started, and then adding two more once those become habits (go to greatlakes.org for the complete list):
• Take unused pharmaceuticals to a disposal center. Treatment plants are not set up to remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater so they can end up in our lakes and may harm wildlife reproduction.
• Don’t dump anything down storm drains. It will flow right into our lakes and rivers.
• Use environmentally safe cleaning products. Safer substitutes, like vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, salt, borax, olive oil and cedar chips can get the job done just as well as their more hazardous counterparts.
• Clean up after your pets. Pet waste releases potentially harmful bacteria and oxygen-consuming materials if it is allowed to enter our waterways.
• Take used motor oil to a disposal site. Motor oil damages or kills underwater vegetation and aquatic life. One gallon of used motor oil can contaminate 1,000,000 gallons of water.
• Don’t pour grease down sink drains. It builds up in sewer lines, restricting the capacity of the pipes. Eventually, the pipes can become blocked completely, leading to overflows of raw sewage into streets, storm drains, and our waterways.
• Plant native species in your garden. They decrease water dependence, reduce the need for fertilizer and pest control and create a renewed sense of place for birds and other wildlife.
My personal tip for you is to take a stroll along the shore of Lake Michigan this spring. There’s nothing like reconnecting with this natural treasure in order to fortify your commitment to protecting and restoring Northwest Indiana’s magnificent fresh water resource!