EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Guard against invaders, but not at all costs

2011-11-13T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Guard against invaders, but not at all costsBy Kay Nelson nwitimes.com
November 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

In May, I introduced readers to the issue of aquatic invasive species — specifically Asian carp. Much since has been reported, and a new report seems to create larger issues for Northwest Indiana.

Indiana remains the only Great Lakes state to construct a barrier to prevent fish migration from inland waterways to the Great Lakes drainage basin based on the 18 high-priority areas (in multiple states) identified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Other states are beginning to address risk reduction options, yet no construction has occurred. It is disappointing in light of the lawsuit initiated by Michigan, calling for the immediate closure of the Chicago Area Waterways, with support of other states and organizations. How can action to construct risk prevention measures be ignored?

A preview of the final report prepared for the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes Cities initiative was released in October. The intent of this report was to identify where physical barriers could be placed within the Chicago Area Waterway System to prevent the fish migration to Lake Michigan by re-reversing the Chicago River and CAWS. The final report will contain three alternatives outlining barrier locations. In two of the three alternatives, construction of physical barriers in the Little Calumet and Grand Calumet River is proposed.

As the lone Indiana representative to the report's advisory board, I outlined three major concerns: flooding, water quality and economic impact.

Of greatest concern is flooding potential. Closing off the two Indiana rivers at the border, as proposed in the report, has not been fully researched as to the impact on Northwest Indiana residents and businesses. How would we be protected against devastating floods? We already have our issues with the Little Calumet and Grand Calumet rivers. We are now nearing the need to identify how to maintain that system. Adding another potential catalyst to flooding is not an option.

The alternative offered is a deep tunnel 8 miles long to carry the flood-stage volumes of water to Lake Michigan. The report did not identify the price tag and the funding resource for engineering/design/construction of this alternative.

From an economic side of things, I remind you of the figures provided earlier this year: $1.9 billion in economic activity and putting in jeopardy more than 17,000 jobs at the Port of Indiana alone.

Our water quality is of utmost importance. Chicago and surrounding communities generate 2 billion gallons of treated wastewater per day that flows down the Mississippi River. In order to reverse that flow, significant treatment plant construction upgrades are necessary to comply with Great Lakes water quality standards — easily taking more than 20 years to complete and untold billions of dollars to finance.

Added to the treated wastewater concerns are the more than 400 combined sewer overflow discharges. Whereas they are scheduled to be eliminated via the Tunnel and Reservoir Project, the completion date for that project is 2029. Just this component alone renders the concept of closing the CAWS as the first line of defense against the invasive species migration a nonstarter solution.

Yes, we must protect all waters against aquatic invasive species. But it must be done efficiently, effectively and not at the risk of our homes, jobs and overall quality of life.

Kay Nelson is director of environmental affairs for the Northwest Indiana Forum. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's.

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