The Great Lakes region has always been defined by water. The “sweetwater seas,” as the lakes were known, sustained indigenous people, and served as a thoroughfare for hunters, fur traders and early voyagers.
More recently, water powered the region's growth as a critical input to the mills, processing plants and manufacturing complexes that propelled this region into becoming the industrial and agricultural powerhouse of America. Water was also the conduit for those goods to travel through the Great Lakes and out the St. Lawrence Seaway, but also down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Water helped build this region and made it rich. But in the process the Great Lakes became a dumping ground for toxic industrial, manufacturing and human waste. The lakes were poisoned, thousands of acres of critical wetlands paved over and the natural aquatic ecosystem destroyed by pollution and invasive species. Tough environmental regulations and cleanup efforts have brought dramatic improvement but today the lakes face new challenges.
Beginning on June 20th with a live call-in program and continuing with a series of in-depth reports and web-features, Front and Center will focus on one topic—water, the critical resource linking 42 million residents of the Great Lakes basin. Reporters from throughout the region will examine the politics and policies shaping the region, and highlight the people who have made Great Lakes's water their life's work.
We will take you to the St. Lawrence Seaway where Canadian and U.S. officials are facing off over environmental shipping regulations, and travel down the Chicago River to consider the feasibility and the potential environmental benefits of re-reversing the river.
We'll visit one of the world's only floating post offices making deliveries to the big ships on the Detroit River, and spend a week on a freighter chronicling the lives of the workers onboard.
We'll hear from Native American leaders in Northern Michigan combating invasive species threatening their traditional fishing grounds and eavesdrop on wildlife biologists on the islands of Lake Superior tracking the remarkable recovery of the Bald Eagle population once decimated by industrial chemicals.
With the region's industrial economic base in decline, experts are looking at how water can play a central role in a defining a new economic future that balances the need to create jobs and protect the environment. Some call it a "freshwater economy," while others label it a "blue" economy.
Already, with water becoming an increasingly scarce resource around the globe, companies in the region are scrambling to get ahead of the curve, inventing new technologies to conserve and better manage water use.
Ultimately, the future of the Great Lakes will be guided by the actions and commitment of all those who live in the region--the people who use the lakes but all too often have taken them for granted. Our hope is that these stories will educate and spark debate while inspiring those of us who live in the region to appreciate this unique resource that has enriched our lives.