Army Corps must act now to end Asian carp threat in Great Lakes

If they weren’t long dead, it could be supposed that the same people who oversaw the effort to reverse the flow of the Chicago River are in charge of efforts to halt the spread of the Asian carp into Lake Michigan.

Those charged with stopping the carp have been slow to act, their first couple attempts have failed, and they appear to be as worried about the financial impacts on Chicago as protecting the public good.

A new study conducted by the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative — groups that represent cities, states and Canadian provinces — suggests the best way to stop the spread of Asian carp and dozens of other invasive species and protect the Great Lakes is to permanently separate the Lakes from the Mississippi River water basin.

The study suggests that restoring the natural flow of the Chicago River could be part of the solution.

Just as importantly, however, the study also says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been too slow to act and measures taken so far to stop the carp from entering Lake Michigan have been unsuccessful.

Some marine experts fear the carp may have already bypassed the barriers.

David Kelch, associate professor of Ohio State’s Sea Grant College Program, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the government should have already closed the locks of the Chicago waterway system.

“The problem myself and virtually every other scientist in the Great Lakes has is when will it get started, when will it get finished and is it soon enough,” Kelch said. “This is going on way too long.”

That’s an understatement. The federal government must immediately respond to the study and, moreover, must say if it supports the effort to split the two systems, something scientists and environmentalists have suggested for years.

The study shows a division is “feasible (and) cost-effective,” according to Andy Buchsbaum, director of the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation.

The report presents three barrier options ranging in cost from about $3.2 billion to $9.5 billion. The costs involve not just barriers, but flood management, water quality and transportation.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River were naturally divided until more than a century ago, when Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River and connected it with the Illinois River to send the city’s waste to the Mississippi rather than Lake Michigan, the report said.

That made sense for Chicago then, and saved lives. But that was then and this is now. The Army Corps must act.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE

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