Wait, someone wants to crimp a world engineering marvel that made
Chicago what it is because some fat, ugly carp are swimming in it?
The century-old Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the largest public works project of its time, reversed the flow of the Chicago River,
cleaned up a stinking, typhoid-producing mess and, for the first time,
opened a big-time shipping link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds. Now its important role in commerce and public health is in question
because Asian (aka bighead) carp are swimming up the waterway, setting
off alarms about an ecological disaster if they get into Lake Michigan.
Some environmentalists want the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers to temporarily shut down the locks that allow Lake
Michigan water to flow into the canal until a way can be figured to
keep out the carp.
The Associated Press reported that some groups want the government to
separate the two watersheds permanently so invasive species have no way
of passing between them. They have suggested physical barriers and even
lifting barges over locks as possible solutions.
This is big international news. The (London) TimesOnLine ran a story
beginning: "Forget the recession -- the biggest threat to the American
economy could be an attack of giant Asian carp." The carp in the Great
Lakes could ignite an "underwater bloodbath, as the carp munch their
way through entire species of rival fish and devour 40 percent of their
body weight in plankton every day."
Michigan officials threaten to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court
to protect the $7 billion Great Lakes sport and commercial fishing
industry from the peril, by forcing the Army Corps to immediately zip
up the locks that would give the carp lake access.
The Toledo Blade ominously warned, "Rarely have five days in Chicago
affected the Toledo area so much," noting that how the feds handle the
carp invasion "ultimately could become more important than any of the
political conventions the Windy City has hosted in its storied
history." Presumably bigger than the one that gave us Abe Lincoln and the Civil War.
The "five days" reference is to the recent dumping of 2,200 gallons of
the toxin rotenone (not to worry, we're told; it only poisons fish, not
us) into the canal to kill any Hypophthalmichthys nobilis that got past
electric fish barriers that had been shut down for repairs. It killed
thousands of fish, but only one nobilis.
Apparently, the last 30 years of erroneous and invented warnings about climate catastrophes, resource depletion, pandemics, overpopulation and other
Malthusian alarms have taught us nothing about losing our heads.
Any moment now (as of this writing), a decision will be made by the
Obama administration whether to shut the locks "temporarily," whatever
that means. But before it's done, the audacious might have a few
What is the impact, even of a short shutdown? The Great Lakes fishing
industry isn't the only one with an interest. More than 14.6 million
tons of commodities annually move through the canal, according to the
American Waterways Operators. Iron and steel from northern Indiana,
gravel and building materials for Chicago are among the commodities
whose Great Lakes shipment would be halted or would have to be shipped
by alternative, more costly methods.
Does slowing or stopping the flow of water into the system affect water
quality, public health and flooding? The Army Corps says it might.
The carp are just one of a long list of "invasive" species that over
the years purportedly threatened the Great Lakes ecosystem and fishing
industries. Somehow, they have survived. Could the dire predictions
about the carp be overstated?
This is shaping up to be a regional conflict, as controversial as
Chicago's diversion of Great Lakes water has been for the last century.
Don't we deserve a better airing of the issues (not the least of which
is the impact on Chicago's economy) and choices before the lock gates
slam shut, even temporarily?
Hey, what's the matter with carp, anyway? Regarded here as "trash
fish," they're food in Europe and Asia. It was the revered Izaak Walton
who described the carp in his "The Compleat Angler" as a fine eating
fish: the "Queen of Rivers, a stately, a good, and a very subtle fish."
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune. You can join the discussion there.
But I'll let you try it first