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Lake Erie lives again

Bacteria-laden beaches, lakes choked with algae and fish contaminated by industrial waste: these have been symptoms of pollution in the Great Lakes since the late 1950s. With growing threats to drinking water, wildlife populations and human health, governments on both sides of the border took action to reverse the Lakes' decline in the 1970s. Today they supply water to one-third of all Canadians and one-seventh of all Americans. Under the watchful eyes of scientists and environmentalists, the Lakes are slowly becoming great again.

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Lake Erie has gotten a reprieve. For most of the 1960s and '70s it has lived under a death sentence as scientists and the public believed pollution had sealed its fate. There's reason for hope with a new report by the International Joint Commission. Evidence shows that chemical pollution is waning and local gull populations are recovering. But, the CBC's Michael Vaughan reports, scientists are concerned the rebound may be temporary. 
• In his 1986 book The Late, Great Lakes, William Ashworth says Lake Erie appeared to improve beginning in 1975. Algae bloom was not apparent, beaches remained open and oxygen levels were good. But, he said, the lake was still in distress. Phosphate levels in the lake had not decreased, and should water levels plunge the lake would once again bloom with algae.

• According to Environment Canada, Lake Erie's shallowness (it's the shallowest of the five lakes) makes it more prone to oxygen depletion than the others.

• Despite a continued decrease in phosphates in the lake, scientists observed low oxygen levels through the 1980s and 1990s.

• In 2002 the extent of the "dead zone" was increasing. Theories explaining it include the added presence of zebra mussels, unknown sources of phosphorus, or global warming.

• Environment Canada has documented other examples of success stories on the Great Lakes. Among them are: Hamilton Harbour with improvements to sewage treatment; the return of walleye to Severn Sound on Georgian Bay, where stocks had collapsed due to murky waters in the 1990s; and sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River linking lakes Huron and Superior.

• The sea lamprey is a parasitic fish that devastated fish stocks in the 1950s.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: July 11, 1979
Guest: Eugene Whelan
Host: Jan Tennant
Reporter: Michael Vaughan
Duration: 2:22

Last updated: August 8, 2014

Page consulted on August 8, 2014

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