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Great Lakes States Sue to Cut Lake Michigan-Mississippi Link

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Joanne Ray/Jessica Eustice

    It’s an unnatural relationship, involving exchanges of fluids and intermingling of species that don’t belong together. It’s been going on for over 100 years, and now six state attorneys general are suing to stop it.

    It’s the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. The canals that link Lake Michigan to Illinois’s network of rivers were vital in building Chicago into a great city. But now the A.G.s of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin say they are obsolete waterways that threaten the environmental health of the Great Lakes by providing ingress and egress for invasive species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.

    The states are suing the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the system. The Corps has set up electric barriers to keep out carp, and is conducting a study on the best way to keep the fish out of the Lakes. That’s not soon enough for our Great Lakes neighbors. They’re even asking Western states to join the suit, because Midwestern boaters have transported zebra mussels to Nevada’s Lake Mead.

    “We have Asian carp coming into Lake Michigan and zebra mussels moving out of the Great Lakes and into the heart of our country, both of which are like poison to the ecology of our waters,” said Bill Schuette, attorney general of Michigan, which is worried the carp destroy its sport and commercial fishing industries. “This is not just a Great Lakes issue. By working together, we hope to put pressure on the federal government to act before it’s too late.”

    Don’t expect Attorney General Lisa Madigan to join the lawsuit. Madigan puts the health of Illinois’s barge and pleasure boat industry above the environmental health of Lake Michigan. Last year, when the other Great Lakes states sought an injunction to close the locks, Madigan filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing they had no right to tell Illinois how to manage its waterways. The Obama Administration agreed with her.

    There’s an even bigger issue for Chicago at stake here. The other Great Lakes have long resented the Supreme Court decision that allows Chicago to withdraw millions of gallons a day from Lake Michigan.

    The water is flushed through the backward-running Chicago River to raise the levels in the canals, and pumped out to the suburbs for drinking. They’ve also sued to reverse the reversal. If Madigan concedes them to the power to shut down the locks, she may also be conceding them the power to stop taking water from the lake. And it’s not possible for 8 million people to live in Chicagoland without all that water to drink.   

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