The Great Lakes are considered the most extensive freshwater system globally, containing enough water to cover the surface of the United States 10 feet deep. Approximately 8% of Americans and 32% of Canadians live in the Great Lakes basin, formed by the glaciers about 10,000 years ago. In addition to the numerous species that rely on these freshwater lakes, the Great Lakes provide drinking water to nearly 50 million people and so many more functions. This freshwater system is genuinely an excellent natural resource that requires protection from contamination and abuse.
In 1953, a petroleum pipeline known as Enbridge Line 5 was built in and around the Great Lakes. Up to 540,000 barrels of oil travel through this pipeline daily, from northwest Wisconsin through Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas to Canada. The pipeline crosses natural areas, including more than 300 rivers and streams. Line 5 also cuts through the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lakes Michigan and Huron. For years, the pipeline’s protective covering has been eroding. Also, the pipeline no longer sits on the bottom of the lake but suspends in the water, more subject to disruption. A worst-case scenario oil spill would devastate more than 400 miles of Great Lakes shoreline and cause an estimated 2 billion dollars in damage. The Enbridge Company has proposed replacing the perilous pipeline to keep the oil flowing for another 99 years.
The Anishinaabe are some of the indigenous people who have lived for numerous generations in harmony with the Great Lakes, an area of great spiritual significance. They were one of many citizen groups concerned about the ongoing flow of oil and helped to stop the proposed construction and operations of the pipeline, at least for now. A leading voice of this nation said, “I have a responsibility to protect our resources and Mother Earth.” The present time is our opportunity to protect and repair life-requiring freshwater by reducing our dependence and consumption of fossil fuels and other harmful chemicals. We should all feel a responsibility to protect nature.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work