Friday, February 19, 2010
Three environmental groups have asked the U.S. Supreme Court hear a case that aims to blockade non-native fish from Lake Michigan.
The request aims to secure an injunction that would prevent the dangerous Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through a system of artificial locks and canals.
“We’re asking the court to intervene in an unprecedented crisis that, left unchecked, will impact the livelihoods of all who depend on a healthy Great Lakes,” Lyman Welch, an attorney and manager for the Alliance Water Quality Program, said.
Built to divert wastewater away from Lake Michigan and into the Illinois River, the city of Chicago's system of rivers and canals creates an aquatic superhighway for the Asian carp and other invasive aquatic species to travel between the Lake Michigan and Mississippi watersheds.
The environmental groups want the two watersheds physically separated and insist that returning them to an approximation of their native status is the only way to protect their ecological health.
"Failure to shut down this invasive species superhighway poses a threat to all U.S. waters," Marc Smith, policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation, said. "If nothing but the short-term half-measures that have been proposed by federal agencies are taken, economic and ecological devastation would only be a matter of time, and time is short."
The request supports Michigan's effort to convince the high court to reopen an eight decade-old case that authorized Chicago to divert water from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. In that case Illinois' neighboring states objected to the plan.
On Jan. 19 the Supreme Court rejected Michigan’s request for an injunction that would require two locks and waterways leading into Lake Michigan to be blocked.
Asian carp have already populated the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and their DNA has been found in the Chicago Waterway System and in Lake Michigan’s Calumet Harbor, which is located just outside Chicago.
The body of a single individual of the species was found about 20 miles south of the lake in December.
The fish, which can grow to a length of more than 4 feet and weigh up to 100 pounds, can knock boaters into the water. Each day they consume enough algae to equal 40 percent of their body weight, which causes the food supply for native fish to be placed under severe pressure.
That probable impact has led Michigan and neighboring states to be concerned that invasion of the Great Lakes by Asian carp would gravely harm the region's fishing industry and cause severe damage to water quality.
A species of Asian carp called Cyprinus carpio was first imported to the United States in the nineteenth century. Since then additional species have been introduced in the Mississippi River basin as a means to control algae in catfish farms and domestic aquaculture ponds.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Chicago's artificial water diversion system, has opposed efforts to impose an ecological separation between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River watershed.
The federal agency and the state of Illinois have argued that closing the locks would result in too much economic loss.
A study released Thursday says that imposing a barricade to Asian carp migration would cost about $70 million per year. The Corps of Engineers previously estimated the annual cost at $190 million.
Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Rep. David Camp have introduced legislation that would force closure of Chicago's system of locks.
President Barack Obama held a meeting on Feb. 8 to discuss the problem with federal environmental policy leaders and Great Lakes state governors. The White House then released a proposal that essentially put off deciding whether to close the locks.