Monday, April 19, 2010

Canal pride

The asian carp still is in the news. In its latest screed against Chicago’s position, the Detroit Free Press questions Illinois researchers’ conclusion that the economic impact of closing the locks to Lake Michigan would be $4.7 billion. The Freep says the tally is computed over 20 years, and that half of the dollars actually would be spent on flood prevention. For the Free Press, the value of the Great Lakes fishing industry is $6 billion. And messing with that fishery is a lifetime proposition. We’ve yet to hear from SCOTUS on the request to reopen the 100-year-old case of Chicago’s diversion of water away from Lake Michigan.

Sending sewage down the Mississippi is as much a Chicago tradition as Paczki Day or “dibs” after a snowstorm. We take a lot of pride in the reversal of the Chicago River. We used early 20th century equipment to dig a canal over the Valparaiso Moraine and raise the Chicago River level above Lake Michigan. This way our filth doesn’t fester right in front of us in Lake Michigan.

Reversing the river is an engineering marvel, and one that could only take place in the City That Works. We may have created a pipeline for exotics into the Great Lakes. But there are so many other ways they can get in, besides the canals. The zebra mussel and round goby came in through ships’ ballasts. And we already know carp have made it into Chicago Park District ponds. I think we should be concerned with our Great Lakes fishery, but the Chicago canal system is here to stay.

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