Tuesday, September 26, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan, excerpt five)

from The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan:

The fetid slick of alewives was, mercifully, drifting east, bobbing on the waves toward the relatively unpopulated shoreline of eastern Lake Michigan, where they were destined to rot and eventually wash back out into the open water. But then the winds shifted and pushed the mess back across the lake, toward the 3.5 million residents of Chicago. The first fish carcasses started floating in that weekend. A few days later, 30 miles of Chicago shoreline had been smothered—some places shin-deep—in a mound of rotting fish goo. There had been similar but smaller die-offs across the Great Lakes earlier in the decade, including one the year before that plugged the screens on the cooling water intakes at a Lake Michigan steel plant south of Chicago, causing a loss of a half million dollars a day during a 10-day period.

Yet nothing was like what washed ashore that July, and Chicagoans would never look at their lake the same way. The inland sea that had sustained them for more than 100 years with a marvelous array of native freshwater fillets suddenly started retching millions of pounds of inedible flesh that smelled like human waste. The saltwater native alewives were fantastically good at breeding in the Great Lakes. It just happened that they weren’t so good at living in them. In the next several weeks an army of hundreds of workers across the southern end of Lake Michigan used shovels and bulldozers to remove the flesh. Chicago workers reported within the month that they alone had disposed of enough alewives to cover two football fields—500 feet high. But even the city with big shoulders couldn’t shovel fast enough. This is how one UPI news report characterized the losing battle: “Chicago was running out of places to bury dead fish, out of money for their removal, and out of people to do that work. A dozen park district employees quit their jobs in olfactory disgust. Morale among those remaining was described as ‘low.’”

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