The Saga of GreatRiver

            A large community of organisms lives beneath the surface of GreatRiver.  Light that penetrates the surface and minerals suspended in the water support plants, which are the base of the river's food web.  All the plants and animals in the river are part of this web.  Some of the organisms in the food web are algae, daphnia, minnow, salamanders, bass, trout, perch, paddlefish, catfish, frogs, snails, crayfish, clams, turtles, ducks, and beaver.

            The first Europeans to find the river were fur trappers, who reported that several Indian tribes lived near the banks.  The Indians apparently had been there a long time because their villages and fields were well established.  Like the Indians, European settlers were attracted to the river.  The land was fertile and moist, and crops grown there could provide food for many families.  Moose and deer from the prairie and wooded areas along the river valleys, fish from the river, and ducks and geese added meat to the settler's diet.  There was a great deal of fur trading because of the many mink, beaver, fox, and ermine living nearby.  All in all, life was ideal.

            As word about the prairie's productivity spread, more and more people were attracted to the area.  Soon the riverside human population was too large to be supported by the existing fields.  Trees along the river were cleared to develop more and more farmland and to be used as firewood or lumber.  As the forest diminished, the game that had been the settler's meat supply also disappeared.  Cattle and sheep were raised to provide homegrown meat, and more trees and prairies were cleared to make grazing land for these animals.

            Fur-bearing animals disappeared when the forests were cut down.  The settlers originally traded furs for items such as cloth, firearms, plows, and luxuries they did not manufacture.  They tried to solve this problem by producing some of the things formerly obtained through trade.  Then the settlers expanded their workshops into small factories, producing items to take the place of furs in order to reestablish trade with other areas.

            Many factories were successful, and people were attracted from other areas to work in them.  As a result, population increased, additional food was required, and the remaining forests were converted into cropland.  Slowly but surely, the land area along the river evolved into the massive industrial centers and agricultural areas that are there today.

            Soon after river shore industry was firmly established, there were no more forests that could be cleared for farming.  In order to produce enough food to feed the rapidly growing population, the riverside farmers stopped rotating crops and planted food crops on all available land.  Within a few years they discovered they had made a mistake, because their yields decreased drastically.

            About that time, commercial fertilizers were developed.  By using fertilizers farmers could plant all their fields every year without worrying about using up the minerals in the soil.

            When a large group of people lives in one area, there is a huge amount of waste material produced.  Tons of garbage and sewage must be disposed of each day.  the presence of the river made this job easy, for it was a simple matter to run sewage lines to the water's edge, dump garbage from piers, and let the city's waste float away.  Before long, people stopped dumping garbage into the river because much of it floated and was ugly.  The sewage was not visible, however, so there seemed no harm in continuing to dispose of it in the river.

            A few years later, people noticed more algae in the river than before.  At first this increase was apparent only as occasional small clumps that had been washed ashore, or as a green film on offshore rocks.  then swimmers complained about the slime that clung to their bodies when they came out of the water, and boaters described large, propeller-snagging masses of algae floating in the river.  Soon, the mayor's office was swamped with many angry descriptions of the foul odor encountered everywhere near the water.  By this time no more people who fished lived near the river.  They had found other jobs to support their families.  A reporter for the local newspaper wrote that the crowds of Sunday afternoon swimmers and picnickers on the river banks had been replaced by dead fish and masses of rotting algae.

Now that you have read the story, answer the following questions.

            *What do you think caused the increase in the river's algae population?

            *How is the disappearance of the fish related to the foul odor and the increase in


            *Why were the river's problems not evident for years?

            *If you could rewrite the story, what events would you change to keep the river

            from becoming the way that it did?