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Restoring And Protecting Lake Michigan’s Ecosystem
Indiana is fortunate to have access to a natural wonder and resource like Lake Michigan. It is the second largest Great Lake by volume and the largest freshwater lake in the United States. Although Indiana’s rivers and streams contribute to Lake Erie, giving us a vested interest in protecting it, only Lake Michigan is actually in Indiana. In a very real sense, Lake Michigan is Indiana’s Great Lake.
August 2019 Little Calumet River Fish Kill
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) responded to a reported fish kill in the East Branch of the Little Calumet River in Portage, Indiana. ArcelorMittal, Burns Harbor, has taken responsibility for this incident.
Lake Michigan: An Indiana Resource
Indiana is one of only eight states in the United States that lie within the Great Lakes Drainage Basin, the watershed for the five Great Lakes. Portions of Indiana are within the Lake Michigan Basin and the Lake Erie Basin, but Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that is physically located in Indiana. Lake Michigan is a significant resource for Indiana. It is vital to our health, the environment, and our economy and it provides us with many notable benefits, including:
- Fresh, safe drinking water for approximately half a million people in Indiana.
- Millions of gallons of water used annually for agricultural, manufacturing, and industrial purposes in Indiana.
- Iron ore, coal, limestone, metals, petroleum, coke, and chemicals, derived from the area’s resources.
- A shipping channel between the Mississippi River system and the Atlantic Ocean that connects over 20 U.S. states. This leads to vast shipping opportunities that contribute to a thriving cargo transportation network. More than 100 ships, 400 barges, 300,000 trucks, 12,000 railcars, and 200 lake vessels move cargo through the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor* annually (*This link is provided for informational purposes only. IDEM does not endorse this website or the corporate services the Ports of Indiana provide).
- 45 miles of Lake Michigan lakeshore, which includes Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana Dunes State Park, and a number of local beaches. The region boasts some of the greatest ecological diversity in the United States, including globally-precious dune and swale habitat.
- Extensive recreational opportunities—such as boating, fishing, and swimming—that support Indiana’s tourism industry. Millions of people visit dozens of beaches along Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline annually.
Challenges Facing Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan faces many challenges, including:
- The continuing accumulation of historical contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury (Hg), in fish tissues.
- The constant threat of new aquatic and terrestrial invasive species, such as phragmites, sea lampreys, zebra and quagga mussels, and Asian carp, pushing out native species and disrupting the ecosystem.
- Excessive concentrations of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other harmful bacteria from sewer system discharges and other sources leading to beach closures.
- Nonpoint source pollution of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which have the potential to lead to harmful algal blooms.
The majority of these challenges are due to the impacts of human society, which brought with it municipal wastewater, industrial discharges, and the development of chemicals whose effects were not fully known at the time they were developed. Due to these past impacts, we as a society are now faced with the responsibility to take control of the impacts of our former actions and work to restore and protect this vast natural resource.
Working Together To Protect Lake Michigan
Because Lake Michigan is such an essential asset and faces pressing environmental challenges, IDEM implements a number of programs that support its protection and restoration. The programs help the agency monitor the status of the lake and its watershed, address historical contamination, prevent and combat invasive species, and conduct other actions. IDEM has a number of federal, state, and local partners in this effort.
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