Experts say there are more than two dozen potential links between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, and that greatly complicates the long-term solutions for keeping invasive species from crossing over into the two basins.
That said, the biggest short-term threat to the interconnected bodies is the looming invasion of Asian carp from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. That has to be the number one priority for dozens of organizations grappling with the challenge, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to environmental organizations, university research shops and government units Great Lakes.
Further, the ultimate goal has to be the complete hydrological separation of the two systems. The major breach, of course, was the construction in 1900 of the Chicago canal system that took that city’s wastewater away from Lake Michigan and down the Mississippi River.
Reversing the flow of the Chicago River seemed like an engineering miracle at the time, but systems thinking was not the order of the day back then. It needs to be the order of the day in this century, because billions of dollars of irreparable damage are being done to the fisheries of the second largest body of freshwater in the world.
The Corps is doing a study due out in 2015 for protection of the Great Lakes, and it is taking short-term measures to attempt to quarantine the carp in the Mississippi. But we can’t wait until 2015 for a more durable solution.
Electric, sound or chemical barriers are all short-term measures that could get part of the job done, but the experts concur that they are not sufficient answers. Some carp will get through each of those hurdles.
It makes no sense for the Corps to short-circuit its analysis, thus creating the risk that their findings will be rejected in a court. That could cause major delay and uncertainty for a permanent separation. We can’t take that risk. The Corps must be thorough.
Nonetheless, there are a lot of legitimate ways to expedite such studies. This can’t be “business as usual” for an engineering analysis. It needs all their hands on deck, and it needs parallel processing of different elements of the study to shorten the time line.
Citizens, who rely heavily on the Great Lakes for many of the resources that make life possible and enjoyable in the Heartland, deserve an expedited yet thorough recommendation.
Forget the lesser interconnections for now and concentrate on the Chicago issues. That alone should shorten the study. President Obama, who hails from Illinois and therefore understands the importance of the Great Lakes to our economy and well-being, the governors from the lakes’ states and Congressional leadership should jump all over the Corps to get a professional, expedited response. Two years should be plenty of time for a definitive, defensible recommendation.