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Opinion

Another view: Two big reasons to stand up for Lake Michigan

The Great Lakes have a new resident, brachionus leydigii, but nobody’s rolling out the welcome mat.

Although the species of microscopic zooplankton may prove to be harmless, it’s yet another non-native species invading and possibly threatening our waters.

Nor should we be pleased that an invasive Asian carp recently was caught in the Little Calumet River just 9 miles away from Lake Michigan, evidently bypassing barriers engineers have built to keep the fish out. Should Asian carp actually make their way into Lake Michigan, they could further upset, and potentially topple, the native ecosystem.

Both worrisome developments should spur us to pick up our game in protecting the Great Lakes from aquatic invaders.

Instead, key leaders in Congress and Springfield oppose doing more to protect the Great Lakes. They balk at the cost, and fear that greater lake protections would hamper the shipping industry.

That’s a dangerously shortsighted view.

Commercial fishing, boating and recreational activities pour $62 billion a year into the Great Lakes economy, by some estimates, and those industries could be hurt badly if Asian carp make their way into the lake. Lake Michigan is arguably Chicago’s single greatest asset – the very reason the city was established here – and it requires stronger protections, not weaker.

In May, a U.S. Senate committee approved a bill that would weaken regulations designed to keep international ships from bringing invasive organisms to the Great Lakes in ballast water, which ships take on and pump out to improve stability. Ballast water already has dumped the quagga and zebra mussels in the lakes, and those creatures constantly block intake pipes for Chicago’s drinking water – an expensive problem.

Ballast water also, in all probability, explains how brachionus leydigii hitchhiked its way here. Weaker regulations would open the door for more unwanted aquatic arrivals.

Meanwhile in Springfield, the Rauner administration opposes a $275 million plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan by adding electric and sound barriers to existing defenses at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam on the Des Plaines River near Joliet.

If Rauner believes the state’s share of the construction cost is too high – $95 million, as estimated by the state – and the barrier would hurt the barge industry, he should present his own plan to keep the carp out.

Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said he is baffled by the Rauner administration’s estimates of the costs and of the negative impact on the economy. In truth, he said, the state’s share of the cost would be far less than $95 million and any shipping delays would be minimal.

But the best argument for taking action is this: Once Asian carp or other invasive species make their way into the Great Lakes, there’s no getting them out. And that could lead to a potentially devastating series of events, with aquatic food chains breaking, the fishing industry paying the price and our crown jewel lake – a haven for tourists and recreational fishermen alike – thrown into disarray.

Chicago Sun-Times

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