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Other issues in the Great Lakes

Other health issues
    in the Great Lakes

Apart from the major Great Lakes health concerns of drinking water, recreational water, and fish consumption, there are a number of related issues that are interconnected to air and water quality, pollution and contamination, agriculture and industry, and wildlife.

Air quality | Bacterial infection and beach closings | Chlorination by-products
Contaminated soils and sediments | Industrial and agricultural use of water
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) | Radiation | Wildlife populations

Industrial and agricultural use of water
The promise of agricultural land was the greatest attraction to the immigrants to the Great Lakes region in the 19th century. By the mid-1800s, most of the Great Lakes region was settled where farming was possible. The population swelled tremendously, with about 400,000 people in Michigan and 300,000 in Wisconsin.

As populations grew, dairy-farming and meat production for local consumption began to dominate agriculture in the Great Lakes basin. Specialty crops, such as fruit, vegetables, and tobacco, grown for burgeoning urban populations, claimed an increasingly important share of the lands suitable for them, even as grist mills were built on tributaries flowing into the lakes to process grains for overseas markets.

The rapid, large-scale clearing of land for agriculture brought rapid changes in the ecosystem. Soils stripped of vegetation washed away to the lakes. Tributaries and silty deltas clogged and altered the flow of the rivers. Fish habitats and spawning areas were destroyed. Greater surface runoff led to increased seasonal fluctuation in water levels and the creation of more flood-prone lands along the waterway.

Agricultural development has also contributed to Great Lakes pollution, chiefly in the form of eutrophication. Fertilizers that reach waterways in soils and runoff stimulate growth of algae and other water plants. The plants decay and die, depleting the oxygen in the water. Lack of oxygen leads to fish kills, and the character of the ecosystem changes as the original plants and animals give way to more pollution-tolerant species.

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