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Our Threatened Great Lakes

The Great Lakes constitute the largest body of freshwater on the planet, provide drinking water for over 30 million people, transport over 110 million short tons of goods every year, as well as food and recreational opportunities for over 250 million visitors. The Great Lakes are vital to the economies of the United States and Canada.

What is the problem?

Yet today, the Great Lakes are under unprecedented stress.
  • Over 185 aquatic and 150 terrestiral invasive species threaten the ecological balance of the Lakes. They deprive fish of food, cause blooms of toxic algae, and foul boats, spawning areas and drinking water intakes. Damage caused by the zebra mussel alone is estimated at $5 billion. On average one new invasive enters the Great Lakes every eight months.

  • Mercury emissions are poisoning the Lakes, contaminating fish and threatening water supplies. Toxic "hot spots" in sediments continue to leach chemicals into the Lakes.

  • Pollutants have caused hundreds of fish consumption advisories for the Lakes and contaminated water is routinely deposited into the Lakes through storm water and sewer overflows. Every year hundreds of beaches are closed due to bacterial contamination.

  • An estimated 50% of Great Lakes coastal wetlands have been lost throughout the watershed, with losses of up to 90% in some areas. Sediment, contaminants, nutrients, invasive species, and intensive industrial, agricultural and residential development have disrupted the ecosystem/ Climate change and water level stabilization have also caused the wetlands to degrade.
The Great Lakes are not the only lakes in crisis. More than 90% of world lakes are degrading. Some like the Aral Sea have nearly disappeared. Others like Lake Chad are disappearing. Lakes are the primary source of food and drinking water for the world's population. Globally, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. The United Nations has declared a world water crisis.

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