Let’s start at the beginning.
The first sphere on the left is quite obviously our planet. The sphere in the middle represents all the water on our planet. And the sphere on the right is the amount of fresh water on the planet.
Of that small dot of fresh water—which constitutes about 2% of the world’s surface water—75% of it is frozen in ice sheets and glaciers (many of which are melting into salt water).
About 20% of that fresh water is housed in the Great Lakes.
(Let’s think about the gravity of this. One in six people globally don’t have access to clean drinking water. Despite this, the world’s water consumption has tripled within the past 50 years. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 47% of the world’s population will face severe water shortages by 2030.)
Despite their seemingly goliath size, these Great Lakes are actually quite sensitive to the impacts of a variety of pollutants.
“Major stresses on the lakes include toxic and nutrient pollution, invasive species and habitat degradation. Sources of pollution include the runoff of soils and farm chemicals from agricultural lands, waste from cities, discharges from industrial areas and leachate from disposal sites. The large surface area of the lakes also makes them vulnerable to direct atmospheric pollutants that fall as rain, snow, or dust on the lake surface, or exchange as gases with the lake water. Outflows from the Great Lakes are relatively small (less than 1 percent per year) in comparison with the total volume of water. Pollutants that enter the lakes are retained in the system and become more concentrated with time.”
(For additional information, see the Great Lakes Atlas.)
Some silver lining on this cloud is that President Obama recently signed into law a new $475 million program (from the 2010 Federal budget) to restore wildlife habitat, clean up toxic pollution and address other serious threats of the Great Lakes. This spending bill is called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The next step is to pursue policies and regulations that will help to restore the Great Lakes and prevent them from future harm.
Click on the link below to see a pdf of the Action Plan created by the EPA and several other Federal agencies for 2010-2014: