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By Joel Brammeier
Alliance President, CEO
Back up to 2008. No carp DNA in the Chicago River, no lawsuits, no booming rhetoric about jobs vs. protecting the Great Lakes, no unfounded assaults on the research of highly respected scientists. The Alliance for the Great Lakes released a report examining the options for separating the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes at Chicago. We outlined six locations where separation could occur and described the pros and cons of each. The report was measured, balanced, based on hard data, and concluded with a call for essential research beyond the scope of our relative shoestring budget.Today we see the rewards of that research: the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative have taken the discussion a monumental step forward by releasing Restoring the Natural Divide -- the most comprehensive report on separation to date. With $2 million of private funding in hand, the team has accomplished in a little over a year a task we are waiting on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until 2015 to achieve: a description of exactly where and how to build a separation that can permanently prevent invasive species from moving into the Great Lakes.
Our work, and the work released today, traces its inspiration to a 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service research paper that anticipated the crisis that hit the Chicago canals in 2009, when carp DNA caught all of us by surprise. That paper led to the convening of a conference in Chicago in 2003, where a group of experts largely agreed that if prevention of invasion was the goal, separation was the solution that provides a guarantee.
It is no surprise that the separation locations in today’s report largely mirror, with a significant punch of engineering know-how, the options
we described in 2008, as well as the 2010 exploration of two separation locations on the south side of Chicago by the Natural Resources Defense Council. A quick immersion in the hydrology and transportation realities of the Chicago River system will lead anyone to the conclusion that questioning whether we can separate is the reddest of herrings. How to achieve separation in time to save the Great Lakes and restore the Chicago River is what’s on the table today.
I applaud the yeoman's effort expended by the states and cities behind today’s study. Of course, it begs the question of whether Congress and the White House will take the steps required in 2012 to fast-track the corps study that is critical to any actual construction. The lakes, rivers and streams we know, love and depend on demand nothing less.
See related news story,"Report says Great Lakes divide can be rebuilt" >
See press release >
More on Great Lakes invasives >
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