Michigan declares war on Illinois, over carp


A century ago, Illinois reversed the flow of the Chicago River by building the Sanitary and Ship Canal. Now Michigan would have us fill it back in

This will affect everyone in Chicago and northeastern Illinois. It could cost us billions in economic and environmental damage. It could affect everyone who has a basement that has flooded or who lives near a floodplain. It could hurt the state's agribusiness and transportation businesses. If this story doesn't make it to tomorrow's front pages, we've lost sight of what's important to us.

I'm referring to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox's politically crass attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to force Illinois to close the locks that separate Lake Michigan from the Mississippi watershed. He says it's necessary to protect the Great Lakes from the Bighead Asian Carp, which have invaded the waterway and working their way toward Lake Michigan.

His action, if successful, could stamp out the benefits of the century-old  engineering marvel in which Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago river. It was beyond a magnificent engineering achievement: It was a vital public health measure that, by avoiding the gross pollution of Lake Michigan, enabled the city to grow into the nation's Second City. It opened up the vast agricultural lands of the West to the huge markets of the East. It created a huge waterway shipping industry that still is of vital economic importance to this region. Shut down the waterway and tens of thousands of people will be unemployed.

Without the connection between two of the nation's greatest and
important waterways, Chicago would have remained just another Milwaukee
or Cleveland. Or worse, Detroit.

In his suit, announced today, Cox asks:

  • Closure of the locks at the O'Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works;
  • Operation of the sluice gates at the Wilmette Pumping Station, the O'Brien Lock and Dam, and the Chicago Controlling Works in a manner that will prevent carp from passing into Lake Michigan;
  • Creation of new barriers to prevent carp from escaping from the Des Plaines River into the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal during flood events, and from getting to Lake Michigan through the Grand and Little Calumet Rivers;
  • Comprehensive study of the Chicago waterway system to define where and how many carp are in these waters, and to eradicate them;
  • Action to permanently separate these waterways from the Great Lakes.

Cox is using a century-old lawsuit (which Chicago won) that Missouri
filed seeking to halt the reversal of the Chicago River. He's going
directly to the Supreme Court which is authorized by the Constitution
to resolve disputes between states, although as far as I know, he has
no direct cause of action against the Army Corps of Engineers, the
Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation
District of Greater Chicago, which operate the waterway.

In this, the Supreme Court will be asked to do what no one else has
attempted: to balance the damage that would be done to the Great Lakes
fishing and boating industry against the damage done by shutting down
the waterway. I'm not sure that this is a job for the judiciary
(although it seems that everything has become the judiciary's job), for
Congress or for federal regulators. Or all of them.

Cox, a Republican who wants to be Michigan's governor, has stoked the
fires of a regional war between Great Lakes states. It's overkill for
such a complex issue, but apparently he's hoping to ride it into the
governor's office.

I assume that he'll next be going to the Supreme Court to cut off the
connection between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, via the St.
Lawrence and Niagara Rivers. It's the St. Lawrence Seaway that has
gifted the Great Lakes with as much, if not more,invasive species.

I'm not arguing that the Asian Carp aren't a menace to the Great Lakes. But Illinois ought not sit around idle while a politically motivated lawyer wants to chip away at what helps make Chicago tick.

Mayor Daley; Senators Durbin and Burris; Gov. Quinn; Attorney General Madigan; the Illinois congressional delegation; President Obama: Where are you? 


Leave a comment
  • Dennis,

    You are being incredibly myopic about this. It is not about carp, it is about the destruction these monsters bring with them, and destruction of a uniques and extremely valuable ecosystem. I fish in Lake Michigan, boat in Lake Michigan and swim in Lake Michigan. I have been on the Des Plaines river, and do not want to see what I have seen there happen in the Great Lakes.

    This could have been prevented years ago, but government biologists who warned of the danger were threatened with their jobs if they didn't keep quiet. Officials didn't turn on the electric barriers until two or three years AFTER they were built because shippers, ignorant of the laws of electricity, feared their boats would be damaged by the electricity.

    If you have a better plan, tell us all what it is.

    Three chears for Michigan's attorney general.

  • 1. Closing the locks will do nothing to stop the invasion. That cat was let out of the bag when the carp were allowed into the country in the first place. It was inevitable they would get out and they did. Once they were out it was too late to do anything about them.
    2. Just who were these government biologists who were threatened with a loss of jobs? Doubtful, moreover, see 1 above. Once the fish got into the waterways it was only a matter of time.

    The Michigan attorney genreal is nothing but a grandstander. Due to the St. lawrence seaway it is only a matter of time until some other invasive species gets into Lake Michigan but you don't hear him asking to have it closed since that would devastate Michigan's economy and ruin his chances to be governor. The guy is nothing but an empty suit looking to be governor and heck, I am a Republican.

  • @bidpack

    Just because Mr. Cox has a plan doesn't mean it's the one we should all abide by. Rather than a time-consuming and expensive lawsuit, the states and Canadian provinces within the region should be working together to fix the problem. Going after each other, creating divisions, and trying to place blame on Illinois (was it the State of Illinois that introduced the invasive carp?) doesn't solve anything. Nor does permanently disconnecting the waterways.

    Political Jockeying will not solve this issue, that's for sure.

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