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Lake MichiganWater Pollution


Water pollution is "any physical or chemical change in surface water or groundwater that can harm living organisms or make water unfit for certain uses" (Miller G17).

There are two main sources of water pollution, categorized as point sources and nonpoint sources. Point source pollution comes from specific locations, such as through a pipe or a ditch. Producers of point sources include factories, sewage treatment plants, and oil tankers. Nonpoint source pollution, on the other hand, cannot be traced to a specific location. Nonpoint sources are more dangerous because they are difficult to contain and research. Examples of nonpoint sources include acid deposition and chemical runoff into the surface water.

Pollution of surface and ground water is of particular concern in Indiana. The state is dependent on surface and ground water as a source of drinking water. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management assessed over 99% of Indiana's rivers and streams for their ability to support fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life, and it was found that only 64% of those waterways were able to completely support all aquatic life.

lake michigan
Lake Michigan, a popular recreation spot

In addition, only 59% of 8,660 miles of streams surveyed were found to be safe for recreation such as swimming and boating. In over 3,500 stream miles, the amount of E. coli bacteria signified unsafe recreation levels.

The history of water pollution is difficult to trace; before the Clean Water Act of 1972, companies indiscriminately dumped dangerous waste into bodies of water with reckless abandon. The CWA brought attention to the problems of water pollution and its effects in the environment. The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1977 and the Water Quality Act of 1987 strengthened the Clean Water Act and forced the state of Indiana to clean up its act and discover ways to make its water safer. Companies were required to crack down on their own waste disposal and find safer ways to dispose of dangerous and harmful chemicals.

However, many problems still remain that are difficult to contain. Water runoff from heavy rains, a type of nonpoint pollution, can cause sewers to overflow and dump into lakes and rivers. This same water runoff can carry chemicals from streets to drinking water sources, polluting our already-threatened water supply. Animal waste from factory farms is also a problem; in 1996, the Center for Disease Control established a link between high nitrate levels in Indiana drinking water wells located close to feedlots and pregnancy miscarriages ("Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farms").

Indiana has come a long way in solving many of the problems of water pollution. The state has implemented new laws and taken new steps to improve its water quality, but clean water is still not completely in its grasp.


"Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farms." Clean Water & Oceans: Water Pollution: In Brief: Fact Sheet. 24 June 2001. Natural Resources Defense Council. 19 Nov. 2002 <http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/ffarms.asp>.

Miller, G. Tyler. Environmental Science: Working with the Earth. 8th ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, 2001.

"Water Quality." 2002 State of the Environment Report. 2002. Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management. 16 Oct. 2002 <http://www.in.gov/idem/soe2002/water/>.


Photo taken by John Craddock