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Great Lakes, Great Mistakes











Sheboygan River Freshwater Estuary





For many years when I was little, I spent my summers playing on the shore of one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. No matter how often I visited, there was always something exciting about the lake. Bigger than anything else I had ever known, it was as vast as I imagined outer space. However great as it was, the edges were mine. From the shore to the buoys marked No Swimming Past this Point, that was home. But even in that safe space, Lake Michigan could remind me of its true size and my place in it. Even in such depths, nothing stays hidden forever.
On the days when fish kills plagued the lake, the shores were choked with bodies. My brother and I would wade through the glassy-eyed corpses until we reached the open water. These fish kills were mostly caused by pockets of industrial pollution being stirred up in the water — an occurrence that continues to this day. We’d do our best to pick our way past, but it was impossible to avoid touching them. I still remember the feeling. Cold, slick, and still. The feeling of a secret brought to the surface.

The Great Lakes have a long history of industrial pollution. In this work, my main focus revolves around what the EPA considers to be the Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). This list contains 27 rivers that flow into the Lakes, most of which are or have been areas of industrial and chemical pollution. They range from Michigan, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Since 1987 when the Great Lakes Quality Agreement was formed, the EPA has delisted only four of these rivers.

The Great Lakes make up 95% of the US’s fresh water supply and are places of vast but fragile biodiversity. Due to climate change, the world’s fresh water is decreasing at an alarming rate — making conservation more vital than ever. Growing up, I always heard the old Michigan slogan, “Great Lakes Great Times” — a hopeful message meant to draw people to these wondrous bodies of water.

My goals for this project go beyond raising the alarm and revealing the issues facing the Great Lakes. This work explores how people can help. I have hope that even in this political climate, we can work together to restore the Great Lakes and ensure a more sustainable future for all of us.


M. Katie White








Ashtabula River Field Brooks Superfund Site #1




Ashtabula River Field Brooks Superfund Site #2




Ashtabula River Field Brooks Superfund Site #3




Ashtabula River Habitat Restoration Area




Menominee River Runoff #2




Menominee River Runoff #1




Waupaca Foundry, Menominee River #1




Waupaca Foundry, Menominee River #2




Menominee River




Marinette Marine Navy Ships, Menominee River




Marinette Coal, Menominee River




Menominee River Area of Concern #1




Menominee River Area of Concern #2




Fox River Area of Concern #1




Green Bay Area of Concern #1




Green Bay Area of Concern #2




Sheboygan River Freshwater Estuary




Sheboygan Area of Concern




Sheboygan River Harbor




Lower Green Bay Industrial Park




Green Bay Freshwater Estuary




Georgia-Pacific Corporation, Fox River




Fox River Area of Concern #2




Niagara River Gorge




Jones Island Sewage Treatment Plant, Milwaukee Estuary




Veolia Water Treatment Plant, Milwaukee Estuary




Scranton Flats Cleveland, Cuyahoga River




Cuyahoga River Area of Concern




Cuyahoga River Freshwater Estuary: Closed due to Eutrophication




Maumee River Iron Dock




Maumee River Area of Concern




Black River: River of Fish Tumors




River of Fish Tumors




Zug Island, Detroit and Rouge River Confluence




Detroit and Rouge River Confluence




Detroit River Area of Concern




Clinton River Mobile Home Park




Steel Fabrication Plant in Port Monroe, River Raisin




Saginaw Bay Area of Concern




Chemical Valley, Canada St Clair River




Chemical Valley




Electrical Asian Carp Barrier, Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal





Great Lakes Great Mistakes Exhibition
Iowa City, IA 2017




Installation Drewelowe Gallery Iowa City, IA




Installation Drewelowe Gallery Iowa City, IA





Installation Drewelowe Gallery Iowa City, IA




One Sentence Elimination, Drewelowe Gallery Iowa City, IA




Sea Lamprey and Zebra Mussels, Ceramic, Drewelowe Gallery Iowa City, IA









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© M.KATIE WHITE 2022