"The Death and Life of the Great Lakes" - My Book Review


Last week in the midst of a Polar Vortex (noun:  incredibly cold weather that causes even the most hearty of people to hibernate indoors) that had firmly gripped my state of Michigan, I happened to noticed something incredibly unusual. I squinted my eyes making sure what I was seeing outside my window wasn’t an illusion. It was real and the sight was amazing… a handful of brave ice fishermen on Reeds Lake in Grand Rapids, MI doing what they like to do. While I was self-sequestered in my home, these outdoorsmen chose to sit in solitude while braving negative 30 degree wind chills for the thrill of catching some fish.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty adventurous. I grew up playing ice hockey on the same lake that these fishermen where enduring some 30 years later. I love winter. I love to ski. My wife and I will brave the cold to run on the weekends while training for a Spring 15.5 mile race. It’s what makes Michigan so great.  But what occurred to me last week was something so simple. So obvious. If this tiny inland lake in Michigan didn’t have clean water, there’d be no ice fishermen baiting the fish to be caught. Clean water. We take it for granted until it’s not there.

Many of us in Michigan just assume that we’ll always have clean water to drink and to enjoy for sport or leisure. The Great Lakes make up 21% of the earth’s fresh water and the water lying beneath Michigan has been called “the sixth Great Lake” because of the watershed’s immense volume. There’s so much water, what could possibly go wrong? It’s that notion that is a common theme in Dan Egan’s book called “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.” Dan is a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This award winning book and Pulitzer Prize finalist was an amazing read and further opened my already wide open eyes to the notion that our Great Lakes are incredibly bountiful but incredibly fragile.

Early in the book, the author wrote: “In 1995, World Bank vice president Ismail Serageldin made a provocative prediction: ‘The wars of this century have been fought over oil, and the wars of the next century will be on water…’” It’s a frightening thought but one that’s quite real. Municipalities within the Great Lakes Basin are entitled to use the water, but let’s not be naïve to think that others in drought stricken regions would love to “tap” the Lakes. I’m not suggesting that there’s not a need outside of the Great Lakes Basin, after all “California supplies at least 90 percent of the nation’s lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados and countless other vegetables.” The demand is there, and so is the supply.   Conserve. Educate. Celebrate. That’s a theme at eightyfive MILES we hope our clients share as well.

Despite the above brief snippet, my initial goal of this blog was to provide readers with a detailed summary of Dan’s book. I had pages flagged and statistics underlined, ready to arm you with a call to action. But then I thought to myself, by doing so would cheat you out of the joy and alarm that I felt while reading the book. It’s an amazing historical perspective on why our Lakes are at risk from invasive species, how science tried to be smarter than nature, the dangers of agricultural pollution, and trying to find the balance between commerce and as I like to say “doing what’s right.” If Great Lakes conservation is as important to you as it is to us, buy the book. I promise you won’t be disappointed and you probably won’t be able to put it down.

So what’s our call to action?

1.     Support Great Lakes non-profits that support lake conservation.  We are supporters of The Alliance for the Great Lakes, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and FLOW For Love of Water.

2.     Read Dan’s book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.

3.     Support legislation in your state that promotes Great Lakes Conservation.

4.     Spread the word. Your voice with your friends is a powerful force.

Thanks for reading. Your friendly ice fisherman thanks you too.

Brian Schwartz