April 3, 2013
The Death of a Great Lake Lake Erie, the smallest of the Great lakes, contained a vast ecosystem that was almost destroyed by pollution and man. Hundreds of years ago, the lake and the surrounding area provided a food source that included fishing and hunting for many people. Pollution destroyed the lake for a period of time until Congress passed legislation that protected Lake Erie. In the years since that legislation, the lake continues to struggle for perfect restoration. The initial tribe, the Erie Indians, first settled around Lake Erie in an area known today as Buffalo, New York. They numbered around fourteen thousand people. In a battle against the Iroquois Indians in 1656, they were conquered and almost eradicated (Shovel). The Iroquois Indians used their newly gained land as trapping grounds for fur to trade with the French explorers. Native Americans settled and lived around Lake Erie for hundreds of years. For the Iroquois Indians who inhabited the region for hundreds of years (“Iroquois Indians”), Lake Erie was a source for their food supply. In recorded history, the lake was used for many different purposes. The Iroquois Indians used it for some of their food supply. The Europeans used it for everything from transportation to an area for battle.
In the following years, Cleveland, Ohio was established in 1797. Cleveland was destined to be a big city after the construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal opened and connected Lake Erie to the Mississippi River. The canal allowed for the transportation of goods from Cleveland to reach the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after the opening of the canal, the first steel furnace was opened (Fogarty, Garofalo, and Hammack 14). The success of the first steel mill attracted people from across the nation. The city was at the center of railroad construction that lasted until 1860 (Fogarty, Garofalo, and Hammack 14). The growth of industry within the city was fueled by the expansion of transportation. Lake Erie helped impact the success of industry during this time. After World War II, American soldiers came home and began buying homes. The sudden and extreme boom in the housing market created major land development in the shadows of major cities. With the sudden demand for housing in the suburbs of cities people were scrambling for affordable housing. In the mad rush to supply the population’s thirst for homes, land was bulldozed, hills were leveled, and streams were filled. Once the land was cleared and leveled, the bare soil was exposed and erosion at an extreme rate began to occur. The once tranquil Lake Erie was about to experience sudden and problematic changes. As the eroded soil found its way into streams and lakes, plant and fish life began to feel the effects. Soil clouded the water which reduced the amount of sunlight that reached the plant life in Lake Erie. Plant life began to die and reduced the oxygen levels in the lake, thus, fish suffocated in the lake. As builders strived to build affordable homes, the homes were fitted with septic tanks instead of sewer systems. This proved to be detrimental to the condition of the surrounding water supplies. According to Adam Rome, in his novel The Bulldozer in the Countryside on page 113, he stated, “a 1971 Illinois Institute of Technology study found failure rates as high as 50 percent.” This quote showed how frequently the septic tanks leaked. The leaking septic tanks contaminated streams and lakes not only with human waste but also with the residue of non-biodegradable detergents. The residue of the detergents caused suds to appear in rivers and lakes across the country (Rome 107). Although the tanks were eventually removed they still caused water pollution. This was proven by Rome on page 113 when he said, “unregulated disposal of sludge and scum was a serious source of water pollution.” Rome suggested the unregulated