This week may turn out to be a watershed moment (that’s a very intentional pun) for stopping the movement of invasive species through the Chicago canals.
On Monday, the attorneys general of seventeen states — from West Virginia to Arizona, from Louisiana to Wyoming — called on Congress to order the Army Corps of Engineers to take rapid action and install a barrier in the Chicago canal system that will permanently and hydrologically separate Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin (read the attorney generals’ letter to the chairs of key congressional committees (pdf).
This is the first time that top officials from states outside the Great Lakes region have weighed in on this issue, and it could be a game changer.
So why are they engaging? For them, it’s not about Asian carp. It’s about the Great Lakes sending invasive species through the Chicago canals out into the vast Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio River system. The Chicago canals threaten the health of their states – economic and ecological – and they’re beginning to fight back.
The best example is the spread of zebra mussels from the Great Lakes through the Chicago canals to the rest of the country. As I’ve posted before, you can see their spread, year by year, in this animated map published by NWF and the U.S. Geological Survey.
That damage has already been done; the zebra mussels have spread through the canals and into the Mississippi River system. What these eleven non-Great Lakes states are worrying about is the next invader to come through. Will it be quagga mussels? Eurasian ruffe? Round gobies? Spiny water fleas? Or something that has yet to invade the Great Lakes?
Kudos to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for leading this effort. As bad as Asian carp are for the Great Lakes, he’s made other regions see that Great Lakes invaders could be equally damaging for them.
The Chicago canals are not a one-way street; they’re a highway that carries invasives in both directions. The electric fence currently in the canals will have little effect in stopping many of them.
We need a permanent physical barrier. The safety of our nation’s waters demands it.