ExploreWater › Lake Erie

Our Great Lake

It is the dominant feature of our physical and mental terrain. All that water to the north sets our internal compass. If you live here long enough, you can sense the lake wherever you are.

Wild and pristine<br />At its best, as in this view at Mentor Headlands State Park, Lake Erie appears clean and clear and awesome as an ocean. Place of contemplation<br />The sun sets to the northwest  over Lake Erie in the summer.Armored shoreline<br />The Lake Erie coastal zone is a dynamic place where one person's shoreline protection can undermine a neighbor's property.Off limits<br />Northeast Ohioans might have a stronger connection to Lake Erie if public access were not so limited.  Toxic algae returns<br />Algal blooms were thought to be part of Lake Erie's polluted past, but a huge outbreak of the green scum covering much of the western and central basins of the lake in October 2011 was an indication that over-enrichment of nutrients from runoff is still a problem.  (NASA satellite image)

With about one fifth of all the world's surface fresh water, the Great Lakes are a natural resource of global significance. In Northeast Ohio, our Great Lake Erie shapes our weather, provides a constant source of drinking water, as well as massive amounts of process and cooling water for industry and power generation. The lake is also a major recreational asset, a magnet for tourism and sport fishing. It’s our Big Nature.

But it also is a very vulnerable, troubled lake. It's vulnerable because it has the smallest water volume of all the Great Lakes but the greatest pressures from human settlement. The Lake Erie Basin has more urban area, more heavy industry, higher population densities and more row crop agriculture. It receives larger loads of many pollutants than any other Great Lake.

Lake Erie is troubled because its ecosystem is in constant turmoil. In addition to dramatic water quality changes in the past century, the composition of plant and animal species in the lake has fluctuated wildly. Whole species of fish, such as sturgeon and northern pike, have been virtually eliminated by overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction. And nonnative species like the zebra mussel have fundamentally altered the base of the food chain by filtering most of the floating plant matter out of the water column. Thus, although the lake is by no means "dead," it is highly unstable and fragile.

This section of the site will develop an introduction to the Lake—essential knowledge for every bioregional citizen.

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