The 21st century brings a new set of issues and threats to the Great Lakes that go beyond the basin. We are witnessing irreparable harm to our planet’s resources, pushing them to unsustainable limits. These threats are more extreme and more intense, highlighting the urgent need for holistic solutions. We must be adaptable, approaching these issues with fresh ideas to prevent the disappearance of our precious natural resources.
The world population has reached seven billion. Currently, more than one billion people lack access to clean drinking water and sanitation. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water-related disease and many are children.
The need for clean, accessible drinking water along with the demands of a growing world population will place more burdens on our natural resources. Additionally, developing countries are increasing their consumptive uses. Water security continues to be an unrelenting issue.
Regional water shortages such as those occurring in China, Australia and Africa have in some cases been linked to climate change. The U. S. and Canada are not immune. Texas, Alberta, and several western states are predicted to endure future water shortages, while some water legislation already over-allocates resources without room for safeguards and management.
The water-intensive processes involved in energy operations are also concerns as energy usage increases further pushing our resources to the brink. And issues of water quality and quantity persist in and around our communities.
Feeding and fueling the world as well as keeping pace with increasing consumptive demands of growing world economies will place the burden squarely upon fresh, clean water never before seen in human history. Consider that the Great Lakes account for over 20% of all fresh surface water in the world. The pressure from political, economic and social forces to divert water from the Great Lakes will be immense. Maintaining the quality and water levels of the Great Lakes Basin and protecting the water rights of its citizens through all of this in the 21st century will be a challenge.