Michigan Sues Illinois Over Asian Carp Invasion

The fight to control the invasion of Asian carp in the Great Lakes is spurring legal battles between Midwestern states.  Michigan, with the backing of Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota, is suing Illinois to prevent the Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan.   Not only invasive species but toxic chemicals, urbanization, and climate change threaten the Great Lakes region.

Lake Michigan threatened by invasion of Asian carp.
Lake Michigan threatened by invasion of Asian carp. / Photo by indy kethdy

Asian carp entered the American waterways when catfish farmers brought the species in to control algae in the 1970s.  The species grows and reproduces rapidly.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains:

Asian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. They are well-suited to the climate of the Great Lakes region, which is similar to their native Asian habitats.

The EPA has built an electronic barrier to prevent the fish from entering Lake Michigan, and it is “the only protection against carp entering Lake Michigan via the CSSC” (Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal).  The state of Michigan has sued Illinois and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close shipping locks near Chicago as further protection, as there has been “positive eDNA detection of Asian Carp” beyond the barrier just six miles from Lake Michigan.  The case has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.  The LA Times reports:

Claiming Illinois officials have been lax, Michigan Atty. Gen. Mike Cox asked justices for immediate action to seal off the most direct route for fish entering Lake Michigan, in hopes of protecting the region’s $7-billion fishing industry.

“We don’t want to have to look back years later . . . and say, ‘What was the matter with us? We should have done something,’ ” Cox said. Closing the locks, he said, was “the easiest, the most reliable and the most effective” short-term step officials could take.

Illinois is concerned about the economic impact of shutting down the shipping locks.

The lawsuit reopens a 100-year-old case which limited Chicago’s water diversion from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River as part of the city’s wastewater treatment.  The lawsuit aims to separate “the Mississippi River system from the Great Lakes entirely”.  The New York Times explains:

More than a century ago, a canal was built linking the two waterways. Barges travel between the two, and over the years, the design helped carry sewage away from Chicago and Lake Michigan as part of an engineering feat that reversed the flow of the Chicago River…

The suit leaves Illinois leaders in an awkward spot: though many of them have expressed horror at the thought of Asian carp taking over Lake Michigan, a closing of locks could also cause damage for a barge industry here. And permanent separation of the two waterways might also require changes to the Chicago area’s wastewater infrastructure.

We must act quickly and decisively to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp.  There are economic consequences to both closing or keeping the locks open from the shipping and fishing industries respectively, but the environmental consequence must outweigh these concerns.

Written by Jennifer Lance

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