by Sammy Caiola
Native Foods Cafe
If you’re anything like me, you spend your office time
dreaming about sizzling days on Lake Michigan, playing sweaty games of beach
Frisbee before jumping into the cool, refreshing water. But unfortunately, due
to high levels of pollution and the effects of climate change on water quality,
a dream about a perfect swimming day is just that- a dream.
Hundreds of people take advantage of our 22,000 square mile
lake every year, be it on a kayak, a surfboard or a jetski, but few are aware
of the myriad perils lurking beneath the surface. When the Natural Resources
Defense Council surveyed lakes nationwide in 2012, the Great Lakes had the
highest percentage of monitoring samples that exceeded the Environmental Protection
Agency’s health standards for E coli. Eek!
sailing on our much-loved Lake Michigan. Native Foods Café uses this photo
courtesy of rachelleb.com
What we’ve got going on here are two parallel events working
in conjunction to turn the lake into a bacteria-riddled waste-hole. The first
is a little thing called “runoff pollution,” which is what happens when
rainwater falls onto streets, buildings and cars and then flows directly into
lakes and rivers, taking with it anything and everything it picks up along the
way. Considering the state of the developed world, you can probably guess why
this is a bad thing. The NRDC reports
that pollution in the Great Lakes Basin increased by 12 percent in 2010-2011,
and that most of that is due to nitrates and pesticides running off from
municipal water treatment plants, agricultural sources, metal facilities and
food and beverage manufacturers. It’s just one more reason to hate GMO’s.
Café vegan restaurant uses this image courtesy of esf.edu.
At the same time, severe weather and unprecedented droughts
associated with global warming are causing the water levels in lakes to
decrease across the board. Over the last 43 years, studies show that Michigan
is among the fastest-warming states, with Wisconsin and Minnesota not far
behind. And when it comes to water loss, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were hit
the hardest of the Great Lakes (see chart). Lake Michigan experienced a record
low water level last winter. Drought doesn’t just mean less water, it also
means a much higher concentration of bacteria in that water. This probably
explains the average of 400 beach closings on Illinois shorelines per year
since 2005. If you’re worried, you might have a reason to be. Droughts cause severe drops in lake water levels in 2012, and seem to be going down in the long term.
But there’s good news. Groups like the Alliance for the
Great Lakes put in loads of time, money and effort each year to research and
advocate for the clean-up of Lake Michigan. They address everything from
helping surrounding industries go green to cleaning up beach litter. And you
can help! Their Adopt-a-Beach
Program enrolls 10,000 volunteers who conduct litter removal and
monitoring, and then complete a beach health assessment that includes testing
and scientific observation. Join their team and doing something vitally
important while soaking in your sun.
take a break from picking up garbage during a Great Lakes “Adopt-a-Beach”
cleanup day. Native Foods Café uses this image courtesy of Greatlakes.org
Salvaging the lake is our job. If we want the next
generation to enjoy the same placid beauty and sparkling majesty that we see on
a regular basis, we’ve got to take an active role in ensuring that. Whether
it’s a volunteer day or a donation, find a way to clean up your beach. Until
then, you’ll have to be wary of what you’re splashing around in.
Native Foods Cafe, vegan, vegan restaurant, vegan food, Lake Michigan pollution