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Saturday, December 20, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 10/12/2002

Only five lakes are `Great'

Fans of Lake St. Clair's 420 square miles of water connecting Lake Erie and Lake Huron want to make it the sixth Great Lake. They should forget it.

At 26 miles long and 14 miles wide at its widest, this lake is important as a link and an established part of the Great Lakes waterway system. But a Great Lake? The notion makes no more sense than an effort four years ago to designate Lake Champlain, which lies between Vermont and New York, a Great Lake.

Leading the campaign to promote Lake St. Clair, a puddle in comparison with Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, are two members of the Macomb Water Quality Board. Their aims are as economic as ecological, as connected to sport fishing as to shipping, and to clean water as to biodiversity.

What's behind their petition to the Great Lakes Commission is money. Lake St. Clair's characterization as a “Great,” though it flies in the face of common sense, would entitle it to federal dollars allocated to the real Great Lakes for pollution and weed control, to save wetlands, correct contamination from runoff, and help get rid of noxious marine life such as the gobey and the zebra mussel brought in by foreign vessels.

But Lake St. Clair, because it connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron, may be entitled to some of this money anyway. If the lake is contaminated, if it harbors alien noxious species, they will be quick to spread to the Great Lakes. It is a key part of the system.

Is this money possible? Of course it is. The Great Lakes Commission last year set aside a half million dollars in federal funds to correct chronic pollution in Lake St. Clair.

It could use some of its allocations under the Great Lakes Legacy Act to keep conditions in Lake St. Clair comparable to those in the Great Lakes.

And if there is a reason to fix Lake St. Clair, surely it is easier for Congress to fix it than to see this relatively small body of water declared a Great Lake.

Michael J. Donahue, who heads the Great Lakes Commission, acknowledges that the commission staff has been calling St. Clair the sixth Great Lake for a while, if only to illustrate the importance of the whole water system.

But even he concedes that the name is not the issue, that what Lake St. Clair needs is some kind attention and some recognition because it “might be a lot more important, economically and ecologically, than the five Great Lakes.”

Maybe so, but there are not six Great Lakes, only five.



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