April 26, 2010

Asian Carp: Supreme Court Denies Michigan Suit - Can We Focus on Real Solutions Now?

Hopefully now that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the State of Michigan's attempt to force the closure of Chicago's Lake Michigan locks, everyone can focus on long term solutions.

I certainly sympathize with those who want all reasonable options on the table to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes, but I also doubt that closing them would actually work. And, I know that the Michigan case and the fight about lock closure has been a big red herring, distracting us from planning for the only long-term solution to the problem of invasive alien species moving between Lake Michigan and the Illinois/Mississippi River system - restoring the natural divisions between these two great aquatic systems.

By re-separating these watersheds (they were artificially connected a century ago to send Chicago's sewage towards Joliet, Peoria, and points south) far inland, we would close the alien species superhighway that exists now between the two. There would no longer be any threat of closing the Lake Michigan locks, in fact, we could probably remove them for good. Recreational access to Lake Michigan wouldn't be threatened, it would be made easier.

Separating the watersheds isn't easy or cheap, but it will work, and there might be tremendous secondary benefits for our region. If it's done as part of an overall upgrade to our freight transportation network, it bolsters Chicago's position in the global economy. It would bring substantial infrastructure investment to our region, creating a large number of high wage jobs.

It's an option that has to be on the table, and a serious study initiated as soon as possible. Until we implement such a solution, we have little choice but to take steps to find and eradicate the carp near Lake Michigan. Those may be our main options now, but the faster we take a hard look at hydrologic separation, the more likely we are to keep Asian Carp and other alien species out of the Great Lakes, and allow the Chicago River system to continue its recovery.

Learn more about hyrdologic separation here.

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