Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends: The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

It's been a long time since I've done one of these posts but it's certainly not because my family hasn't been reading and recommending books. My family is full of readers and my list of books to read grows every time I hear from one of them.

Recently my uncle wrote that he had just finished Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes and had high praise for it. This is what he had to say:

"​In grade school back in Lyons, NE, we learned about what a wonderful thing the St. Lawrence Seaway​ (construction started in the mid-1950s) was going to be.

But, alas, the frugal American and Canadian decision makers constructed the seaway on the cheap, making the canals & locks only big enough to handle the 'average size' of ship then going through the Panama Canal. Within years the invention and proliferation of container ships made the seaway obsolete. Ocean-to-Great-Lakes shipping never became 'the big deal' it was billed as. But by wrecking the geographic wall that protected the Great Lakes from invasive species from the oceans, the St Lawrence Seaway has cost a fortune in damages, far above either the cost of building the system and the supposed benefits of ocean ships being able to travel as far inland as Duluth."

Egan is a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel so he's familiar with the lakes. Given my recent association with Milwaukee and Lake Michigan, it's certainly a subject I'm interested in reading about. My uncle also provided this link to a PBS interview with Egan.

Here's the publisher's summary:

A landmark work of science, history and reporting on the past, present and imperiled future of the Great Lakes.The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.For thousands of years the pristine Great Lakes were separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the roaring Niagara Falls and from the Mississippi River basin by a “sub-continental divide.” Beginning in the late 1800s, these barriers were circumvented to attract oceangoing freighters from the Atlantic and to allow Chicago’s sewage to float out to the Mississippi. These were engineering marvels in their time—and the changes in Chicago arrested a deadly cycle of waterborne illnesses—but they have had horrendous unforeseen consequences. Egan provides a chilling account of how sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels and other invaders have made their way into the lakes, decimating native species and largely destroying the age-old ecosystem. And because the lakes are no longer isolated, the invaders now threaten water intake pipes, hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure across the country.Egan also explores why outbreaks of toxic algae stemming from the overapplication of farm fertilizer have left massive biological “dead zones” that threaten the supply of fresh water. He examines fluctuations in the levels of the lakes caused by manmade climate change and overzealous dredging of shipping channels. And he reports on the chronic threats to siphon off Great Lakes water to slake drier regions of America or to be sold abroad.In an age when dire problems like the Flint water crisis or the California drought bring ever more attention to the indispensability of safe, clean, easily available water, The Death and the Life of the Great Lakes is a powerful paean to what is arguably our most precious resource, an urgent examination of what threatens it and a convincing call to arms about the relatively simple things we need to do to protect it.

1 comment:

  1. On a clear day, there are several vantage points on our road where I can see the nearly 60 miles to Lake Ontario. This book is already on my wish list... hope I can get to it soon.