How Healthy is Lake Michigan? A Checkup on the Great Lakes

When it comes to the health and maintenance of Lake Michigan, some environmentalists, property owners and even surfers have expressed their concerns.

Some of those concerns: toxins, the Foxconn deal in Kenosha and rising lake levels. 

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“I definitely, in a very physical way, have been experiencing some of the negative factors in an otherwise really grand body of water,” said Rachel Havrelock, founder and director of The Freshwater Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Havrelock, a lifetime Great Lakes swimmer, says she recently experienced eye irritation after taking a swim at Oak Street Beach. She suspects it was a reaction to the runoff from excessive rain.

“We just get (hit) these days with a lot of water, pounding us very quickly,” she said. “We’ve got some big, decent infrastructure at play, but at the same time, the way the development is going–I would say we’re not doing very well when it comes to thinking about how to hold, how to store, and how to filter our rain water so that it doesn’t cause damage to people’s homes and lives.”

(Frank McNamara / Flickr)(Frank McNamara / Flickr)

Also rising: lake levels. A recent story from the Chicago Tribune explored how Lake Superior outflow is contributing to an already overflowing Lake Michigan.

“Last year, the amount of water released from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron was the highest in 32 years,” the story states.

But that transfer of water is also due to the fact that Lake Superior is geographically higher than lakes Michigan and Huron, said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. On top of that, Lake Michigan is self-contained.

“Huron has an outlet and water makes its way to Erie,” Learner said. “Michigan is a big bathtub.”

But there isn’t only bad news, he said.

“Overall, the lakes are getting better,” Learner said, attributing the Clean Water Act for the progress. The act was amended in 1972 and established the basic structure for regulating pollutants into U.S. waters.

Related stories:

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Why Are There Fewer Boats in Monroe Harbor?

Foxconn Seeks 7M Gallons of Lake Michigan Water Daily

Shedd to Launch Mobile Aquarium, Boat and Kayak Excursions

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