Last week, Rahm Emanuel received a dead Asian carp from Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, as a parting gift from the White House. For all you Godfather fanatics, the underlying message wasn't that Rahm's political career now sleeps with the fishes. Instead, it highlights a serious issue that the former chief advisor to the President will face in his run for Mayor of Chicago.
Thankfully, Mr. Emanuel doesn't have to battle Asian carp alone. What many in the Midwest tend to over look in this debate is the robust, successful and ongoing efforts of numerous government agencies to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. So far, the government has done a good job at stopping the migration of Asian carp towards the lakes. The existing electric barriers, for instance, have stopped the spread while protecting the best interests of the region - both commercially and ecologically speaking.
What the region needs though is a champion willing to "bring the family together" so to speak, and underscore the progress that has already been made. We need someone to help government authorities move beyond the obsession with the Chicago Area Waterway System towards a more comprehensive, regional approach that protects the numerous additional connections between the lakes and inland waterways across the region. Researchers identified more than 30 locations besides the Chicago locks where Asian carp could spread into the Great Lakes - either through direct waterway connections or occasional flooding. As the lone carp found in Lake Calumet earlier this summer demonstrated, we need to better focus on perhaps the most serious entry threat - human transportation.
In Illinois and Indiana, officials took action to block potentially overlooked pathways. The Corps already completed installation of fencing designed to protect against flood transfers in Illinois and, in July, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources installed mesh fencing at Eagle Marsh, a wetland that DNR staff identified as a possible pathway for Asian carp passage under certain flood conditions.
These efforts are essential to protecting the continued operation of the Chicago waterways and the more than 7 million tons of goods and commodities transported through them each year. This free flow provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic output for the region. Permanently shutting the locks or, more drastically, separating the Lakes from the River, puts these jobs at risk. Those who have worked on or studied this engineering marvel understand just how extreme such changes would be for the region - forever altering the Midwest economy and leaving Chicago with billions of dollars in infrastructure costs related to flood control, public safety and water quality issues.
The upcoming mayoral election in Chicago will certainly command national attention. As a key issue, the Asian carp debate will no doubt become a familiar topic for Chicago voters and folks across the region. To date, most people's knowledge probably ends with what they've seen on YouTube and Emanuel's humorous parting gift. Hopefully, Windy City mayoral candidates will help keep the public focused on the facts at hand - the current barriers are working, our Federal and state agencies are hard at work looking at new solutions and Chicago has led the way in promoting realistic solutions.