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Ten Threats to the Great Lakes

In an effort to rank, in the order of importance, the ten major environmental issues facing the Great Lakes, the staff at the GLRC asked 28 stakeholders in the Great Lakes basin to rank the major issues affecting the Great Lakes. The Environment Report then sent out a team of reporters throughout the region to explore these issues in-depth. The result of their efforts will be broadcast on public radio stations beginning on October 10th, 2005. This series is made possible in part by the Joyce Foundation and the Healing Our Waters Campaign .

Invasive Species
1) Invasive species

Invasive species are organisms that are found in ecosystems from which they did not originate. Many of them often out-compete, eat, or otherwise harm other native organisms (see disappearing native species).

Nonpoint source pollution
2) Nonpoint source pollution

Nonpoint source pollution is created when water from rain or melting snow carries pollutants as runoff into waterways and groundwater. The pollution is usually a mix of chemicals, including those coming from agricultural and urban sources.

Shoreline development/Wetlands
3) Shoreline development/wetlands

Wetlands are often called the kidneys of the earth because they filter and extract pollutants from the water that passes through them. They also alleviate flooding and control erosion. Development of wetlands disrupts this whole system, and replacement wetlands don't work as well.

Shoreline development/Wetlands
4) Cargo ship channels

The Great Lakes are linked to the world's ports through a system of channels, locks and dams stretching from Duluth, MN to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a 2,340 mile journey. The system is a big source of environmental damage in the Lakes.

Point source pollution
5) Point source pollution

Point source pollution comes directly from an identifiable source, like a wastewater discharge pipe from a factory. Much of the time, there are regulations on discharge that goes directly into lakes and rivers, but sometimes, harmful chemicals can still accumulate or are accidentally spilled.

Disappearing native species
6) Disappearing native species

Species that are indigenous to the region are disappearing due to habitat loss and competition from invasive species, causing biodiversity to decline. When biodiversity declines, the entire ecosystem can be thrown off balance causing disruptions that have yet to be fully understood.

Pollution hot spots
7) Pollution hot spots

In this day and age, just about everything has been touched by pollution. However, there are certain areas that have extraordinarily high concentrations of things like PCBs, and heavy metals. Such high concentrations of pollutants can cause problems for generations to come.

Air pollution deposition
8) Air pollution deposition

Air pollution deposition comes from various sources, including smokestacks, fires, pesticides, and automobile emissions. Chemicals and compounds that are sent into the air from these sources fall back down to earth directly or via precipitation.

Polluted beaches
9) Polluted beaches

Going to the beach is a popular pastime for many, but polluted beaches can affect both human and ecosystem health. Oftentimes, the pollution comes from wastewater drains when heavy rains overwhelm sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants.

Water withdrawals
10) Water withdrawals

The demand for fresh water is high, and the Great Lakes are a tempting and ready source. Many people and organizations outside the Great Lakes basin are seeking to make withdrawals from the Lakes, but some worry the ecosystem can't handle it.

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