Minnesota, Ohio join lawsuit against Illinois over Asian carp

Minnesota and Ohio joined Michigan in its lawsuit to close an Illinois canal connecting a tributary of the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. The states say the invasion of Asian carp through the canal could destroy the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Nerissa Michaels/Illinois River Biological Station/Detroit Free Press/AP
Illinois River silver carp jump out of the water after being disturbed by sounds of watercraft in this December 2009 file photo. Many fear that the Asian carp, which can reach 4 feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds, will wreak havoc, not by attacking native fish, but starving them out.

Minnesota and Ohio have joined Michigan in a lawsuit against Illinois in the battle keep Asian carp from the Mississippi Basin from invading the Great Lakes through a historic Chicago canal.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced her state’s involvement in the lawsuit on Monday after judging that the presence of the Asian Carp along the state’s 149-mile shoreline on Lake Superior would directly threaten the state’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, which together generate $2.7 billion.

“We pride ourselves on outdoor recreation; we call ourselves ‘The Land of 10,000 Lakes’,” she said in a phone interview. “We do think it is a public emergency.”

The total revenue from fishing and tourism on the Great Lakes amounts to $7 billion.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox’s lawsuit last week asked the US Supreme Court to order Illinois state agencies and the US Army Corps of Engineers to close the O’Brien Lock and Dam and Chicago Controlling Works, two critical junctions of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The historic waterway was built in the 1920s to divert sewage away from Chicago and to provide a commerce route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

Linking river traffic to Lake Michigan resulted in booming commerce for the Midwest, resulting in $30 million in annual revenue, according to the American Waterways Operators (AWO), a trade association representing the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry.

But it also introduced a potential environmental disaster: the Asian carp, a bottom feeder, one of which was discovered in the canal close to Lake Michigan in early December, the northernmost finding of the fish in North America. The carp is thought to have traveled up the canal from Mississippi and Arkansas, where the fish was first introduced to help control algae growth on catfish farms in the 1970s.

The local shipping industry has argued that closing the canal locks will damage the shipping industry.

But Minnesota’s Ms. Swanson says that argument is shortsighted and inadequate when set against the possible destruction of the Great Lakes.

“There’s no monetary comparison to an ecosystem,” she says. “They’re an American treasure. Once you contaminate them with Asian carp, that treasure is jeopardized and can’t be changed. You can’t pay Michigan or Ohio or Minnesota enough money to ruin the Great Lakes.

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray also joined the lawsuit. His office says Asian carp in Lake Erie could cripple the $680 million earned in recreation fishing each year.

The lawsuit grounds its case on three 1929 complaints pitting Wisconsin, Michigan and New York against Illinois. Those complaints charged that the canal’s reversal of the water flow away from Lake Michigan was illegal. The Supreme Court declared the canal unlawful one year later in 1930, but never ordered it shut over the following years but only sought to regulate it.

Mr. Cox says if the court will not reopen the old case, he will file a new case charging the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with allowing pollutants to contaminate the Great Lakes system. The lawsuit is on the high court’s agenda Jan. 8.


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