At long last, there is legislation before Congress that would force the federal government to physically cut links in Chicago waterways between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River system to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp and other invasive species.
It is long overdue and deserves quick and emphatic approval.
According to an Associated Press report the bill introduced by Rep. Candice Miller, a Macomb County Republican, would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct barriers in rivers and canals that were reconfigured more than a century ago to connect the two giant watersheds.
That project boosted waterborne commerce but created a pathway through which fish, mussels and other aquatic animals and plants could stake out new territories and compete with native species. It was a boon to Chicago businesses, but has been a bane to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watersheds ever since.
After more than four years of work, the Army Corps in January issued a tepid report that presented eight options to prevent Asian carp and other invaders from migrating between the two watersheds.
The alternatives included walling them off with physical structures, which the Corps said could cost more than $15 billon and take 25 years to accomplish, down to installing electric barriers.
Critics immediately attacked the report for failing to endorse a single option, which would make it easier to push through Congress, and because the Corps’ timetable was too slow. Many fear the carp would be established in Lake Michigan long before the Corps acted.
So Miller’s bill is most welcome; it represents robust action on a more reasonable timetable and also addresses the daily flow of millions of gallons of Great Lakes water into the Mississippi basin through those Chicago connections.
The links created 100 years ago “would never be allowed today,” Miller said. The flow of Great Lakes water “must end.”
Predictably, a Chicago-area business coalition said Miller’s plan was too expensive and would harm the region’s commercial shipping and pleasure boat industries. Compared to the damage the carp could do to the Great Lakes $7 billion-a-year sport fishing industry, that’s chump change.
An independent report by scientists from Notre Dame, the U.S. Forest Service and Resources for the Future, an independent research institution, ranked proposals for keeping out the carp and said placing dam-like structures in Chicago waterways would be an almost foolproof method of doing the job.
That’s the kind of analysis the Army Corps should have produced in the first place; now, Miller’s bill may do the job instead.
The federal government has dithered for at least 10 years since the threat became well understood and for 50 years before that. It’s time to act.