Please invest in Our Daily Planet today, by making a one time or monthly contribution.
We do not charge our readers a subscription fee for our content. We want to continue to grow our readership, particularly among millennials and public servants. Voluntary contributions from readers will help us employ interns and freelance journalists, expand our content, and reach a larger audience.
Collectively, the Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater system. They provide drinking water, food, even the fresh air we breathe. The five lakes are “arguably the continent’s most precious resource,” National Geographic writes in the magazine’s December cover story.
And they’re in trouble. Toxic chemicals from agriculture, invasive species, and warmer water temperatures because of the climate crisis are throwing the lakes into an unhealthy state. Greenhouse gas emissions have created new weather patterns, causing more intense storms to blow off the lakes.
To break down just one threat: fertilizer runoff from farms and manure from industrial animal farms are causing more frequent and more intense cyanobacteria outbreaks. The algae forms a green, scummy barrier on the surface, blocking oxygen from reaching the aquatic plants and animals that need it. It’s also harmful to people and pets: toxic algae outbreaks have been linked to liver damage and dog deaths.
Why This Matters: The Great Lakes watershed is home to almost 40 million Americans and Canadians. Each individual human-introduced harm to the lakes is a challenge on its own that threatens the health of the people and ecosystems reliant upon these bodies of water.
On Lake Erie, which faces the most phosphorous pollution, half a million people already directly felt the impact of intense algae outbreaks. The city of Toledo gets its water supply from the lake, and for two days in 2014, the city water supply was poisoned by algae.
Fertilizer runoff is mostly unregulated by the Clean Water Act, but without stricter phosphorus runoff regulations, the outbreaks will become a permanent fixture. Climate change will only make them more intense.
Shrinking Microalgae Has A Big Impact: Some of the changes happening on the Great Lakes are harder to see on the surface. The lakes’ tiny diatoms are an essential base of the Great Lakes food chain. The diatoms are a good kind of microalgae, and they’re being eaten by invasive mussels and shrinking because of climate change — they sink deeper in warmer water, reducing their ability to photosynthesize.
“The trend is smaller diatoms and less of them, and they’re being replaced by things that are at best low-quality food items and at worst toxic,” Andrew Bramburger, a lake ecologist now with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told NatGeo. “We don’t know what that’s going to do to the overall food web.”
The U.S. Air Force has finally learned enough information to begin cleaning up a jet fuel leak from Albuquerque’s drinking water supply. The Kirtland Air Force Base plans to write and submit a report to the New Mexico Environmental Department before the agency can approve and make recommendations for cleanup. This comes as a relief […]
by Jessica Grannis We’re in the dog days of summer now, and lots of folks are headed to the beach to make up for lost time since the pandemic began. My favorite part of traveling to the coast from DC is watching my surroundings slowly turn from urban areas to the forests of the coastal […]
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The West is currently in the middle of a severe drought, and Lake Powell, the region’s second-largest reservoir, is at its lowest level in decades. The lake, located on the Colorado River, is effectively a human-made storage basin that keeps the regional water supply in balance under the 100-year-old […]
Our Daily Planet is your daily dose of the stories shaping our world and the ways that you can take action. From the climate crisis to the protection of biodiversity, if these issues matter to you then please subscribe & stay informed!
Your privacy is Important! We promise never to use your email address to send you spam or advertisements.