‘Go Big Read’ event looks at Great Lakes


Mark Luetkehoelter, Librarian

“Everyone understands that water is essential to life. But many are only just now beginning to grasp how essential it is to everything in life – food, energy, transportation, nature, leisure, identity, culture, social norms, and virtually all the products used on a daily basis,” states the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Each year the University of Wisconsin-Madison picks a common book for the entire campus to read and discuss called the Go Big Read program. The book for the 2018-2019 school year is “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan, a Milwaukee Journal reporter and senior water policy fellow at UW-Milwaukee.

It is also a featured book in this year’s Wisconsin Book Festival, with Egan giving a talk about it on Tuesday, October 16 at the UW Memorial Union Theater. Copies of the book are available in the Truax and Downtown campus libraries.

The Great Lakes supply about twenty percent of our planet’s surface fresh water, yet many of us may take them for granted. Many of us probably take issues of water quality and water supply for granted in general.

Egan presents an accessible and entertaining history of how the Great Lakes have been used for commerce, recreation, and sustenance. More importantly, he examines the decisions of the users of the lakes, whether huge shipping corporations or small boat anglers, and how with either selfish or the best of intentions, have affected the health of the lakes. 

When an environmental impact is made anywhere on the Great Lakes they are all affected, since as Egan points out, the Great Lakes are “one giant, slow-motion river.” Any impact on the Great Lakes also affects watersheds surrounding them, and because of man-made canals like the one in Chicago connecting the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River, impacts can go on to the Mississippi River and beyond.

The importance of the Great Lakes watershed regions cannot be understated since it provides drinking water and agricultural production for a big portion of the United States.

With water supply and water quality becoming increasingly vital world issues, the importance of the Great Lakes has magnified. So much so, in the last decade the states bordering the Great Lakes signed a compact to work together to manage and protect the lakes.

Read Egan’s book if you can, and also use subject terms like freshwater, Great Lakes, groundwater, water quality, water supply, and watershed in the library’s new Discovery search tool to find relevant books, articles, streaming videos, and scholarly web sites on the topic. Try a simple keyword search on water in the library’s subscription database CQ Researcher to find several timely and in-depth research reports.

Also, look at vetted web resources in the library’s Environmental Science research guide.