By Lan Nguyen
Evanston residents learned about how the Great Lakes are tied into the global water crisis at “Tap Into Lake Michigan”, a panel discussion hosted by the Evanston Rotary on Tuesday. The panel included four Midwestern leaders in water conservation who discussed the water quality of the Great Lakes and the importance of conservation. Panelists agreed that in a world where clean water is increasingly threatened, action must be taken to preserve the Great Lakes’ massive resource.
“Water is something we take for granted, especially in this area where we’re so fortunate to have an incredible bounty of fresh water,” said Cameron Davis of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Davis said the quality of the Great Lakes is essential to maintain because it is the source of 95 percent of the country’s fresh water.
Debra Shore, of the Board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, predicted that because of the water shortages occurring across the planet, people will migrate to the Great Lakes region in the coming years.
“So how do we prepare for that and demonstrate good stewardship?” Shore said. “Increasingly, the eyes of the nation and of the world will be on us because of this access to the freshwater resource.”
This increasing role of the Great Lakes has brought attention to threats to their water quality. Davis said one of his main concerns is chemical fertilizer runoff from farmland, which contains phosphorus and causes algae blooms that kill oxygen-consuming organisms.
Panelist Andy Stuart of the Rotary Club of Toledo, Ohio, also discussed agriculture’s impact on Lake Michigan. He said Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or industrial livestock operations, may contribute to contamination as well. The large amounts of manure produced by these operations can run off into the lakes after rainy seasons and pollute the water.
In addition to discussing the condition of the Great Lakes, panelists advocated for conservation efforts. Ian Hughes, the brewery manager of Goose Island Beer Company, stressed the importance of conservation methods in industrial businesses. The brewery relies on fresh water from Lake Michigan in their beers.
“If we’ve got a healthy lake, then we’ve got great beer,” said Hughes.
Because so many residents and businesses depend on the fresh water from the Great Lakes, the U.S. government has made efforts toward conservation. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), launched in 2010, aims to combat threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Congress had funded this project with bipartisan support for five years.
“In this day and age, it is difficult to get any major policy through,” Davis said. “But we have agreement in Congress that this program is worth it because it’s getting results.”
Programs funded by the GLRI, along with community efforts, have helped combat various threats to the Great Lakes, such as invasive species, agricultural runoff and overconsumption of water. The panelists encouraged audience members to continue supporting these efforts and to be mindful of water conservation.
“There is no substitute for fresh water, the substance upon which all life depends,” Shore said. “We have a moral obligation to demonstrate good stewardship of this precious resource.”