Great Lakes states interests are bigger than Chicago

For more than 50 years the Mahon- ing Valley fought hard for a link between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes through Youngstown. So imagine what the reaction would be today if the canal had been built and we were now told that it had to be sealed off because it represented a grave danger to the very survival of all the Great Lakes.

We suspect we would be looking desperately for excuses to keep the canal open, claiming that the threat was not as great as some people were making it, using every possible political pressure to maintain our waterway at whatever the risk might be to others.

And we would be wrong.

So it is today that the Chicago area is wrong in arguing against the closing of the locks on the Illinois River that link the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River and that provide the primary avenue by which the destructive Asian carp can complete the last leg of a journey from ill-advised fish farms in the south into the waters of lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario.

We can understand that Chicago covets its connection to the Mississippi, but just as an Ohio lake-to-river canal would not have been a creation of nature, neither is Chicago’s Sanitary and Ship Canal. It served Chicago well for more than 100 years, but now it represents a real danger to the very future of the Great Lakes. The long term interests of Duluth, Marquette, Thunder Bay, Milwaukee, Saginaw, Windsor, Cleveland, Buffalo, Toronto and a hundred towns along the shores of the lakes in eight states and two Canadian provinces trump Chicago’s economic concerns.

A real danger

It is not being alarmist to predict that the Great Lakes as we know them would cease to exist if the Asian carp were to establish a foothold. Commercial fishermen landed a 3-foot-long, 20-pound bighead carp in Lake Calumet on Chicago’s South Side, about six miles from Lake Michigan. If it came from the Mississippi River — and tests are being done to establish its origin — it will have worked its way past the electronic barriers and dead zones that have been built to keep the carp from making it through the canal.

This specimen is a but an adolescent. Asian carp can grow to 4 feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds. They are ravenous and would devastate the lakes’ fishing industry — the only question is the time it would take. They have covered more than 1,000 miles of the Mississippi River in but 15 years and have become the dominant species in parts of the river they found to their liking.

A group of Great Lakes congressmen — none from Chicago — are backing a bill introduced Wednesday to close waterways linking the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes. It has already come under fire from the Illinois chamber of Commerce and others who say it is too early for such a response.

Better too early than too late.

To be sure, there are other possible ways for the carp to get into the lake, primarily during floods that create temporary access between tributaries to the Mississippi and tributaries to one of the lakes. But no one is suggesting that the only thing that needs to be done is to close the Chicago area locks. What’s being said is that those locks are the largest open door by far to the lakes, and it appears that efforts taken so far to keep the carp from reaching the locks have failed.

The window of opportunity for protecting the largest body of fresh water in the world is closing.

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