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Great Stress on the Lakes

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The map highlights the relative collected stress on various areas within the Great Lakes Basin.

The map highlights the relative stress on various areas within the Great Lakes Basin.

J David Allen of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan led a team that compiled information about all the stressors to the Great Lakes.

According to their analysis, “Current restoration efforts have targeted high-stress sites almost exclusively, but generally without knowledge of the full range of stressors affecting these locations or differences among sites in service provisioning. Our results demonstrate that joint spatial analysis of stressors and ecosystem services can provide a critical foundation for maximizing social and ecological benefits from restoration investments.” You can read the complete article here.

The article highlights how intermingled and independent the sources of stress can be. It’s not one bad thing, it’s thousands of bad things that combine over time and geography to create very big problems. If the Great Lakes can be helped, it will require a multi-faceted effort from many perspectives.

The map provided by the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project ( emphasizes the relative strength (a negative measure) of the cumulative stresses through color coding with red being the areas with the most negative impacts.

I’m not a scientists but I can see that problems flow downstream. The more heavily impacted areas are shipping centers (Chicago), the mouth of rivers (Maumee), agricultural areas (Michigan’s thumb), larger cities, and popular recreational areas. The lakes furthest downstream (Erie and Ontario) are the most stressed. Lake Superior is furthest upstream and in better condition that the others.

The scientists in the study want governmental and environmental collectives to work together to understand and alleviate the stressors and to “clean up” affected areas with a better understood list of priorities.

As individual citizens, we can interpret this map and see that every little bit helps. This is our city asking us not to use nitrogen fertilizer on the lawn. This is our watershed safekeepers asking all of us not to dump pollutants into the storm drain. This is the Do Not Litter signs on the highways. This is the State DNR setting clean river water requirements for local water treatment plants which increase our water bills.

We rely on government to watch over industry and big business and to enforce the laws they enact for our protection. We benefit from the work of the Great Lakes Council of Governors who work to protect our water rights and keep a spotlight on Washington to encourage the federal government to do the right things. We can’t wait for government to solve all the problems.

There are improvements each of us can make that will combine over time and geography to remove some of the stress. We can start and participate in conversations about clean water. We can change the way we live at home to stop pollution in our own yards and neighborhoods.


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