"Lock closure or the Great Lakes Armageddon!" That's the battle cry of many Chicago Area Water System lock closure advocates. Attempting to turn that cry into a reality is Michigan's former Attorney General Mike Cox. Michigan and five other Great Lakes states sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal court to force immediate closure of the Chicago locks because that's the only means of preventing Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes -- or so they would have you believe.
People seem inherently focused on Chicago Area Waterway System as the end all, be all. As the most significant man-made direct link to the Great Lakes, the CAWS has come under heavy fire from many who believe closing the locks is the only way Asian carp can maneuver themselves into the Great Lakes. Plans for a study released this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, shed light on the stark reality that the CAWS is not the only pathway through which Asian carp could migrate.
The study I'm referencing is the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study, originally suggested in 2007 and finally funded in 2009. The Corps management plan for the study includes a comprehensive inventory of other pathways and current hydrological connections between the Great Lakes and inland rivers, outside of the CAWS. There have always been potential pathways along the boundary between the Great Lakes watershed and the Mississippi River Basin that extends from New York to Minnesota due to flood plains. The USACE Other Pathways Inventory catalogs 36 such locations in five states where a pathway could potentially develop; 18 of which, have been identified as "significant risk or high risk." With this information readily available, why is it we only hear about the CAWS?
It is interesting that lock closure advocates identify the CAWS as the main -- and often lone --
pathway by which Asian carp can get into the Great Lakes when in reality the majority of pathways identified in the study are natural flood plains with no protection; unlike the CAWS that already has a highly monitored and efficient barrier system in place. The existence of these other pathways, that cannot simply be closed demonstrates the importance of a regional solution to control Asian carp populations. As government experts have already shown and continue to reiterate, building walls or closing gates do nothing to reduce risk. This study by the Corps is a wake up message to many who believe lock closure in the CAWS is necessary. There is no quick fix to the Asian carp problem.
All parties need to invest cooperatively in this study, jointly oversee that it is done in the timeliest manner and trust in the effective system we have in place now. Ignoring these pathways while continuing lawsuits and other attacks on Chicago sets a terrible precedent for states where these high risk pathways exist. Residents and government officials in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin should take heed. If Asian carp are found in waterways in their states, they'll be the next ones to face cries for radical and unnecessary "fixes" that could prove as economically disastrous as the suggestions that have been made in Chicago.
Over the last several months, the Great Lakes states have targeted Chicago as if it is the enemy. By now, it should be clear that the Asian carp problem isn't solely Chicago's problem or the CAWS, and furthermore, there isn't a simple solution. This is a regional issue, and all 5 states and 18 locations listed in the US ACE Other Pathways Inventory are on the front lines. We must examine these pathways and then act strategically to design an economically feasible solution. It's time others wake up and see that the Asian carp, not Chicago, are the enemy.
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