Contrary to what many believe, the Chicago River is home to a diverse collection of nearly 70 species of fish, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
This increase from about 10 species in the 1970s can be attributed to the improving water quality in the Chicago River. Accordingly, the Chicago River has become a hub for freshwater recreational fishing.
In 2006, the Chicago Park District launched the annual Mayor Daley’s Chicago River Fishing Festival, which has increased in popularity with each year. Additionally, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources hosts Urban Fishing Clinics throughout the state.
Don’t underestimate your impact! For example, did you know that reducing fertilizer use in your yard, picking up your garbage after a picnic at the beach, and reducing the amount you water your lawn are all are things you can do to keep Lake Michigan healthy? Actions like these help keep the beaches open all summer and your drinking water supply clean and abundant.
Lake Michigan is not just a big body of water that never changes. Water flows in and out of the lake continuously. Humans, plants, animals, and fish all use the lake to eat, drink, wash, and have fun. This is such a part of our everyday lives that often we do not even think about it.
The three EcoMyths Chicago ePostcards since January have talked about the impacts that people and nature have on Lake Michigan: its beaches, water levels, and drinking water.
Cap or Tap?
Tap! Yes, tap water from Lake Michigan is safe to drink. Chicagoland residents are fortunate to live near Lake Michigan, one of the world’s largest, cleanest sources of fresh water. The lake services water to millions of people in Illinois everyday.
But while it provides the public with great recreational opportunities as well as valuable tap water, some have raised concern about the safety of it for drinking purposes.
Even though the 1960s may have been plagued with warnings of the problems associated with pollution in the Great Lakes, times have changed. Thanks to the combination of the Clean Water Act and our sophisticated treatment facilities that clean lake water before it enters our faucets, the water from Lake Michigan is among the best municipal water supply sources in the world.
While natural fluctuations in water levels are normal, when lake levels drop and stay down, it raises a red flag. Lake Michigan’s water level changes naturally over time, just like the rest of the Great Lakes. Fed by precipitation, runoff, groundwater, and flow between the chain of Great Lakes, water levels fluctuate with the seasons. On a longer time scale, four- to seven-foot cycles between high and low occur approximately every 15 years.
In addition to this natural variation, locks, dams, and climate change are modifying these natural cycles, while other activities have permanently lowered lake levels. Much effort has been devoted to protecting the natural ebbs and flows of the Great Lakes since they are critical to the health of coastal habitats that support people and wildlife.
Flushing Out the Truth
Despite what you may have heard, Lake Michigan beach closings in Illinois are only occasionally caused by sewage overflows from cities in the region. They’re more often triggered by other local issues, such as contaminated rainwater runoff from the land, excrement from birds and wildlife, excessive algae in the lake, and occasional diluted stormwater sewage from Chicagoland.
While a closed beach can be a serious bummer on a hot summer day, you can hardly blame raw sewage dumping as the reason you can’t swim, wade, or play your favorite water sport. In fact, the majority of pollutants that cause beach closings in Lake Michigan are derived from other local sources.
Water running off parking lots, streets, lawns, and homes carry bacteria and other contaminants into the lake while also transporting nutrients, such as lawn fertilizer, that promote excess algal growth in the water and on the beach. This is a cause for concern as mats of algae are suspected of harboring high concentrations of E. coli, a bacterium indicating a potential threat to human health.