Coming soon to the U.S. Supreme Court: Asian carp

Michigan just took the Asian carp controversy to a whole new level: the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s where Michigan today filed its lawsuit against the state of Illinois and the Army Corps of Engineers in a last ditch effort to keep the monster carp from invading the Great Lakes.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Michigan is asking the Supreme Court to order Illinois and the Corps to deploy the last barrier remaining between the Asian carp and Lake Michigan by temporarily shutting the navigational locks in the Chicago canals. Michigan has also asked the Court to order a permanent separation between Chicago canals and Lake Michigan.

This lawsuit recognizes how high the stakes are in the effort to keep the Great Lakes safe from the invasive carp, and Michigan’s leadership in filing it is commendable. I’ve pasted below NWF’s news release and my statement in support of the lawsuit.

But as high as the stakes are in the Asian carp controversy, this lawsuit potentially has other, equally seismic impacts. That’s because in making its filing, Michigan seeks to reopen the 80-year old Chicago Diversion case – the Supreme Court case allowing Chicago to reverse the flow of the Chicago River and divert billions of gallons of Lake Michigan water to the Mississippi River basin.

The diversion has lowered the levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron at least 3 inches. And It’s the Chicago Diversion that has put the Great Lakes at risk for the Asian carp invasion.

The original purpose of the diversion, back in the 1800s, was to solve Chicago’s sewage problems. Chicago was dumping huge amounts of untreated sewage into Lake Michigan and fouling its own drinking water supply. The sewage solution? Direct Chicago’s waste away from Lake Michigan. To do that, the city and the federal government constructed an elaborate canal system that connected the lake to the rivers that flow into the Mississippi, and then reversed the flow of the Chicago River through those canals. As Chicago’s sewage became cleaner and diluted with Lake Michigan water, an entire economy grew up around the barge and ship traffic in the canals.

The Diversion no longer protects the Great Lakes; instead, it’s the lakes’ single biggest threat.

Now, I don’t want anybody to get distracted here, but Michigan’s lawsuit gives us a means to redo the Chicago Diversion. For the Supreme Court to grant Michigan’s requested permanent relief – the separation of the Chicago canal system and the Mississippi River basin from Lake Michigan – the Court will have to order a replumbing of the Chicago Diversion. Physically, there’s no other option. And that could mean restoring a more natural flow into Lake Michigan and bringing back higher lake levels just as climate change pushes those levels lower.

But those results are down the road. Right now, we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball: closing the navigational locks right away.

We have a five alarm emergency; let’s hope the Supreme Court treats it that way.

Read the rest of the entry for NWF’s press release, or download the press release (pdf).

For Immediate Release:
December 12, 2009

Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation, 734-717-3665
Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation, 734-904-1589

National Wildlife Federation Supports Legal Action by State of Michigan to Keep Asian Carp out of Great Lakes

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (December 21)—Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that Michigan today is filing a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court against the state of Illinois to close navigational locks to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

The move follows the discovery of Asian carp DNA only 6 miles from Lake Michigan –past an electric fence designed to keep the non-native fish from entering the lakes. Navigation locks are the only obstacles between the fish and the Great Lakes.

Known to batter boaters and even knock them into the water at the sound of a passing motor, Asian carp are voracious filter feeders that can grow to more than 4 feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds and quickly dominate a body of water by gobbling up the same food that sustains native fish populations.

Commenting on Attorney General Cox’s announcement today, Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, said:

“We support the state of Michigan for taking action to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of the Asian carp.

“Closing the locks offers a temporary fix until a long-term solution can be implemented—namely, separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.

“The Chicago diversion used to protect the Great Lakes, but now it endangers them. We need to re-plumb the Chicago diversion, and that’s what Michigan’s filing with the Supreme Court seeks to do.

“The Chicago diversion was a 19th century solution to an environmental problem. Now it’s causing a 21st century emergency. The Chicago diversion has become a 2-way conveyor belt for invasive species—bringing invasive species into the Great Lakes and dispersing non-native invaders from the Great Lakes into the rest of the country.

“We need is to restore the separation between Lake Michigan and the Chicago canal system. Otherwise, the Great Lakes are in for the worst ecological and economic disaster since the invasion of zebra mussels.”

For more information, visit:

National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.


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