The Great Lakes are under threat of disappearing.
They’re losing water from their reservoirs, from lakes that have been drained to refill them, and from rivers that feed into them.
So why are people not making the effort to conserve water?
According to new research from Purdue University, the answer lies in the way we think about the Great Lake as a whole.
In the study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists looked at how people think about how water flows through the Great East and West Lakes.
They asked respondents to think about what a “water source” is in the Great Basin.
In the Midwest, water flows directly into Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, as well as into the Great Sioux and Crow Nation Reservation.
The same goes for water from Lake Erie, which flows into the Hudson River and is fed to the Great Chicago and Erie Canal.
The results were clear: People in the Midwest were far more likely to think of water as a source than people in the South.
“The Midwest has the lowest rates of water conservation,” says lead author Jonathan LeBlanc, an assistant professor of geography at Purdue.
“In the South, they’re more likely than in the East to think water is a source.”
The researchers found that people in different parts of the Midwest thought of water more broadly as an ecosystem.
People living in the upper Midwest thought water flows from a lake into rivers, while people in southern parts of their states thought water came from a river into lakes.
People in the Southwest and Midwestern states were more likely in the West to think that water flows into a river and then is filtered to refill the lake.
And people in western states were far less likely to consider water as an individual entity, as they thought of it as a group.
This isn’t the first time the Midwest has been a hotbed of water preservation.
In 2006, Purdue researchers found similar results when they surveyed people’s perceptions of the Great Water Treaty.
People in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky thought of the treaty as an agreement between states to protect the Great River from pollution and damming.
But LeBlac says people in both parts of Iowa think differently.
“People in Iowa are more likely not to think the Great Plains is a water source,” he says.
“They think the whole Midwest is a basin.
People here are very different than people who live in the Northeast or in the Plains.”
While the findings from the Purdue study show that people from different parts are making different decisions about the relationship between water and the Great Land, it doesn’t mean people in these areas are all doing it wrong.
In fact, the findings suggest that people might be making the right decisions.
LeBlan says the Midwest is already a place where people are taking the lead when it comes to conserving water.
“This is a very interesting study, and it has interesting findings, but it also shows that people have an understanding of water that’s a lot more nuanced than we think,” he adds.