The History of Water Pollution in Lake Michigan


Past Present Future Presentation

Welcome to the Past
Facts: Onset of Water Pollution:

Since 1871, when Chicago rebuilt after the fire, the Chicago River has carried all wastes from houses, farms, the stockyards, and other industries directly into Lake Michigan. During the great storm of 1885, the rainfall washed across from the river far out into the lake, past the water intake cribs. Typhoid, cholera, and other waterbome diseases from the contaminated drinking water resulted.

In response to an epidemic which killed thousands of residents, the Illinois legislature created the Chicago Sanitary District in 1889 (Now, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) This district constructed 56 miles of canals to reverse the flow of the rivers away from Lake Michigan, so that it would dilute as it flowed into the DesPlaines River and eventually into the Mississippi River. Locks were also installed at the Lakefront intake points to control the amount of diversion.

Welcome to the Present
Facts: Pollutants Present Today

The major sources and causes of pollution in Illinois are pesticide and fertilizer runoff from agriculture, construction site erosion, urban runoff, hydrologic modifications, soil erosion and sedimentation, livestock waste, and resource extraction.

Illinois has received more than $14 million since 1990 for public awareness/education and implementation of best management practices to reduce pollution for both surface and groundwater.

Major threats to the water quality of Lake Michigan include atmospheric deposition and contaminated sediments. Furthermore, toxic pollution continues to wash into the Lake from fields, course through the Lake from contaminated sediment, and fall into the Lake from the sky.

Welcome to the Future

What you can do to prevent pollution:

  • Promote beneficial land use practices in the Lake Michigan basin, including greater public shoreline access.

  • Restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat in the Lake Michigan watershed, including wetlands and sand dunes.

  • Cut toxic pollution to Lake Michigan that threatens children's health and communities' quality of life.

  • Monitor tributary and air deposition for LAMP pollutants.

  • Set up sediment assessment and remediation projects for Lincoln Park Gun Club, Illinois; Manistee Lake, Michigan; and Trail Creek, Indiana.

  • Develop pollution prevention technical assistance and education projects in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; and western Michigan and a mass balance model of Lake Michigan.

  • Assess potential pollutant loads to Lake Michigan from contaminated sediments.

  • Develop the Great Lakes Envirofacts data management system to provide access to loadings and ambient data as well as programmatic data bases.

  • Continue sediment remediation at high-priority sites, and use results of the Assessment and Remediation of Contaminated Sediments (ARCS) study to select appropriate remediation technologies.

  • Continue to identify pollution prevention needs and opportunities for LAMP poll.

  • Develop and monitor chemical and biological indicators of ecological health to track progress toward
  • restoration of beneficial uses.

  • Set up agricultural clean sweep collections for pesticides in Illinios, Michigan and Wisconsin and an
  • urban clean sweep in northwest Indiana.

  • Summary of Small Group Presentation:

    The aim of our presentation was to take our fellow peers on an adventure through the past, the present, and even to the future of Lake Michigan.  As pirates, our fellow mates were assigned to think intricately
    of creative ways to help clean-up the water pollution through various activities, including an actual treasure hunt.  The given mission for the pirates was to earn their own sailboat.  Three rooms were decorated to represent either the past, the present, and two possibilities of the outcome of the future of Lake Michigan in terms of water pollution.  In the rooms, students were handed invitations which relayed the actual facts of water pollution in Lake Michigan during certain time frames.

    IIn the "Past" room, the decorations indicated that there was a relative amount of water pollution prior to the twentieth century.  Both aquatic and plant life was represented by balloons, streamers, and paper cut-outs.  In the center of the room was a long table, which represented the boat in which the students would begin their journey.  We presented the students with a situation, which required them to think critically of certain pollutants that affected Lake Michigan.  After they responded with a variety of results, we explained  that this activity was aimed to make them aware of the pollutants and of how dangerous they were to the aquatic and plant life.

    In the "Present" room, the class was asked to sit on the shore and to gaze into the polluted Lake Michigan, which was represented by a blue tarp covered with cans, bottles, cars, dead ducks, nets, and oil bottles.  The decorations clearly indicated that water pollution was a major problem in Lake Michigan.  We presented the students with a situation, which asked them to come up with items to steal (they are, after all, pirates) that heavily contributed to water pollution.  We explained to them that technology has had an enormous effect on water pollution and that humans too were responsible for the fate of Lake Michigan.

    In order to illustrate the ambiguity of the future, half of the "Future" room represented the possible good outcome if programs for relieving water pollution worked and humans decreased their polluting; while the other half represented the bad outcome if programs did not work or if they were effective but humans increased polluting.  We asked them to discuss and then share what they could do with the objects that they found in the treasure hunt from becoming a part of the pollution problem, or how their objects could be used to prevent pollution.

    To conclude this entire excursion, we presented each student with a colorful plastic sailboat, and hosted a small party that included water and Goldfish crackers.  Overall, this project seemed to be successful because the students participated in one way or another and became aware of the water pollution situation in Lake Michigan.

    By: Dawn, Jackie, Maria, and Stephanie

    Last Updated 3/07/1999
    Image Copyright (c) 1997 Index Stock