Great Lakes Polution

I am in the middle of planning a yearly summer vacation to the great lakes…this will be my first time with my kayak, time to explore =)

I had a friend mention that some of the water is starting to get polluted. When I was up there last year it all seemed clear and didn’t smell.

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on the 3 areas that I am planning to kayak at:

  1. Pictured Rocks/Miners Beach
  2. Marquette (presquile Isle)
  3. Lake Michigan (UP) Brevort area

    Appreciate your comments…


With all due respect to your friend, I would disagree with his opinion. I find Superior to be very clear and clean. My experience is on power boats, not kayaks. Even if it were polluted, the water is so cold that it cannot develop the bacteria which would cause an odor. The average late summer surface temp is only 48 degrees. Aside from Duluth/Superior, there are no other significant population centers on the lake to create pollution. If he made his observations in the Duluth/Superior area, then yes, perhaps he hit a “pocket” of dirty water. But overall, Superior is very clean.

Lake Superior
Here is a link with a few articles which may be helpful. One indicates that sewage is being spilled in the Sault Ste Marie area, which is obviously a bad thing. Another indicates that the health of Superior is good.

Thanks for the replies =)

Clean Waters
I have kayaked Door County quite a bit and have found the waters fairly clean. I paddled the Lake Michigan Side of Big Bay de Noc and the waters there are clean also.

I don’t know what you mean by polluted, but Northern Lake Michigan and more so, Lake Superior, that waters are relatively clean.

I hope that answers your Question.

Pictured Rocks
My family and a group of friends go up north to Munising foor a week in July for the past 7 summers. The past 4 have had kayaks. We mainly go on little outings from Miners Castle, any paddle is amazing. I stumbled upon a piece of ship about 2 miles NE of Miners Beach, I later found it to be the George. I saw the wreck from the Lakeshore trail above, but wasn’t able to get back to it in calm water. If you head NE from the beach, there are a lot of little inlet type things, there is a big one then you can see Mosquito beach, the inlet before that last big point is where the wreck is, can see a pretty good outline of it too… Anyway, just thought I’d toss that out there, any little trip in a kayak is worth it up there though, it’s great to go out from Sand Point too.

Most Likely Erie
Although it has improved in the last few years, as far as I am concerned, Erie is still pretty bad.

Look at the fishing reg’s you get when you buy your fishing license, and you get second thoughts about eating much fish out of Erie and it’s major tributaries. We all still do, but not a whole lot over a short period of time.

Last year I paddled the Apostle
Islands in Lake Superior and the lake was very clean. I also paddle Lake Michigan in the Chicago suburbs and it too is clean. I have been to Door County many times and the water appears clean.

I’ve been to the Pictured Rocks without a boat and it seems a wonderful place to paddle (and clean).

Have fun.

just back
We just got back from a week in the Munsing area. Water was clear and cold and beautiful. Couldn’t kayak it because kids and dog were with me. The water didn’t look or smell bad. No garbage on Miner’s Beach and the river was clear also

I have heard that there is a algae problem developing in the Great Lakes, largely due to warming of the waters and the availability of nutrients. It is allegedly more pronounced in the shallower lakes such as Lake Erie, but so far is not a problem in Superior since the water is deep and cold.

I live about 20 miles from the southern end of Lake Michigan and so far have not seen any algal blooms around here. The destinations you mention are probably OK due to their remote northern locations and cold water.

Lake Superior = eco desert
I had a biologist tell me how lake Superior is an ecological desert. There are so few nutrients that it can barely support the fish that are stocked into it.

For Lake Superior to be a resource for fishing it would need a lot of mud and dirt. Algea blooms would be a good start.

Is this not correct?

A living lake with a healthy fish population would destroy the clear water and diving enjoyment.

Lake Michigan Door County
I live in Door County and don’t have a problem with the water. Polution is not a problem here.

Lake Michigan off of Saugatuck
Looked very univiting to me Memorial Day week which really wasn’t new news to me. I used to go to AMUUSE camp just a half mile south and the water wasn’t clean there a few years ago either.

It might be just the Kalamazoo River dumping in and floating up to the beach, not sure.

Lake Huron from Tawas north should still be clear and clean. Clean enough that you can see the boulders underwater that are the size of trucks.

I don’t think that’s what he was
talking about. Clear vs dirty water doesn’t always equate with a healthy fish population.

If that were the case, would we want muddy rivers out west so as to increase the trout population? Not the case.

One of the things that has made a lot of the great Lakes look clearer is the presence of the Zebra Mussel - - that pain that arrived from the orient, and clogs up our system pipes and motor boat exhausts. This has cause some deficiencys in certain areas, but I don’t recall ever hearing about it directly hurting the fish population. I may be wrong.

Different Algae
Well I’m no biologist by any means, but I do know that there are different types of algae. Microscopic algae (plankton) comprise the food source of many aquatic creatures and are beneficial to an ecosystem through their role as part of the food chain.

The problematic types are macroalgae, sometimes called blue-green algae. They feed on phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients created by man-made pollution (hence the onset of the phosphate ban many years ago). They create large blooms and are visible to the naked eye in the form of scum. An example of this can be readily observed in many farm ponds. Their growth is exacerbated by warmer waters and their presence often creates a low oxygen situation which is obviously bad for the fishies.


good point
You are correct on both counts.

Pictured Rocks/Little Bay de Noc
Lake Superior by Pictured Rocks is incredibly clean and clear. You can easily see 20 to 30 feet down. It’s very cool! The Pictured Rocks area is just beautiful. Between the cliffs and the green (shallow water) to blue (deep water) variations in the color of the water it is just gorgeous. I have never seen even a hint of algae on Lake Superior, probably because the water is too cold for it to develop. I also paddle on Little Bay de Noc near Escanaba, MI since I live near there. I haven’t seen too much algae this year. The water is clear. Last year, however, there tended to be a lot of algae at the shoreline (depending on the wind) due to the warm temperatures we had. A friend of ours lives on Green Bay and there was a significant amount of algae at the shoreline, but once you got by it, the water was clear.

Heard a story on NPR yesterday…
… about algae blumes in the Gulf of Mexico, and it relates some to the situation in the great lakes. Basically, the story attributed the growing blumes to more nitrates (algea food) being washed out of farms into the Mississippi. Lake Erie seems to have the most problems with algae blumes, and this makes sense - lots of agriculture run off (think of the Maumee River watershed) and high average temperatures (because it is so shallow - only 40-50). The other great lakes have much lower percentage of farmland in their watersheds, and have muc lower average temps because of their depth.

Farm runoff etc
Yep - Lots of farm runoff in Erie.

Figure every river from the Cuyahoga (downtown Cleveland) west is primarily fed by farm runoff. There is also a lot of industry on some of these rivers which doesn’t help much.

Figure in the old steel mills in Cleveland and Lorain which basically stradle the rivers, and it just adds more to the muck.

Know of one plant that sand blasts steel mill equipment outside next to the river. When the sand pile gets to big, they bulldoze it into the river. (Hey, it’s only sand - right!!!)

Any wonder why the Ohio DNR warns us about eating fish from Erie and it’s tributaries. They catch some big steeklheads in these rivers - - wonder if they are mutated.

On the bright side,
the Cuyahoga did inspire Burning River Ale.