It's been about a year since Asian carp hit the news in a big way. Here in the Chicago region our most notorious invasive species may have slipped from the front pages, but elsewhere in the broader Great Lakes region they are still very much on people's minds. Fortunately for everyone involved, the discussion has shifted away from both the fish themselves and the bogeyman of lock closure, and toward long-term solutions for interbasin species transfer, including hydrological separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.
Case in point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a dozen public meetings about its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS), with the next meeting scheduled for tomorrow in Green Bay. Additionally, the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative are making good progress with an independent study of hydrological separation. (Full disclosure, I serve on the advisory committee for that effort).
When discussing the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), particularly in light of these discussions about the feasibility, costs and benefits of various hydrological separation scenarios, it's critical to remember that some rambunctious fish are just part of the story. CAWS is the pathway for a whole host of invasive species, but it's also a working river full of barges and pleasure craft, a habitat for native species, and the conduit by which our region disposes of its stormwater and treated effluent. There's substantial room for improvement in all of those areas, and that's why the current discussion of hydrological separation is an opportunity for the entire Chicago region to envision, articulate and then implement a plan for CAWS that meets all of our various economic and environmental goals.
Today we released a short video — "A Fork in the River" — which explains the relationships between these variables in order to inform the audience about what's at stake. It is meant to be used as a conversation starter. Its ultimate question, "Should we do it?" is up to the audience to answer, and is something our whole region will be grappling with in the years to come. Watch it, share it, comment on it.
"A Fork in the River" was produced by the Metropolitan Planning Council, with support from Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. The film was created and directed by the design studio Moving Design, with audio support by Ethan Sellers.
For a more thorough analysis of the issues at hand with CAWS and invasive species, I encourage you to read an article we posted last June, or to attend one of the upcoming GLMRIS sessions. You might also consider attending Great Lakes, Great Threats, Great Opportunities, an upcoming one-day course by the University of Chicago's Graham School of General Studies.
Stay tuned for more as MPC participates in these critical decisions about the future of our waterways.