EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: We must cooperate to protect Great Lakes

2011-05-15T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: We must cooperate to protect Great LakesBy Kay Nelson nwitimes.com
May 15, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Lake Michigan is the crown jewel of Northwest Indiana's quality of life. It is our lifeblood -- supplying our drinking water, providing a recreational setting and supporting our economy. All of us have a responsibility to protect and preserve this natural and national treasure.

Invasive species are a serious issue. Recently, the threat posed by Asian carp has been widely reported at the state and national level. However, most media accounts have not included some information that directly affects folks here in Indiana.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report that, among other things, identified 18 critical locations in five Great Lakes states. These locations are vulnerable to the migration of Asian carp from inland rivers, canals and backwater channels to the Great Lakes watershed -- where they could enter each of the five Great Lakes, not just Lake Michigan.

Eagle Marsh near Fort Wayne is one of the 18 sites. Indiana recognized the importance of this threat and has taken physical measures to prevent such migration by erecting a fence last summer. To date, and to the best of my knowledge, no other Great Lakes state has carried out such projects to protect our Great Lakes.

The campaign to prevent carp migration into Lake Michigan has focused mainly on closing the locks and gates within the Chicago Area Waterways System. This waterways system has a series of electric barriers originally conceived and constructed to protect against other invasive species. The barriers are serving to protect against the Asian carp migration.

It is important to understand the dual role the Chicago Area Waterways System serves. The locks and gates are a critical management tool used during periods of potential flooding to control stormwater pathways. The locks and gates work in combination with the soon-to-be-completed Little Calumet River Basin Flood Control project to protect against devastating floods such as the event Northwest Indiana experienced in 2008.

The other role of the Chicago Area Waterways System is to provide for marine transportation, which is a vital economic engine for Northwest Indiana's lakeshore region. According to a recent report from the Ports of Indiana, shutting down lock operations would place at risk 17,655 jobs and $1.9 billion in economic activity right here in Northwest Indiana. Our Northwest Indiana businesses depend on the marine transportation of raw and finished products to maintain their competitive edge.

If the Great Lakes states want to protect the lakes, as we claim, then financial resources should be directed at installing additional barriers at the identified waterways of concern. The states need to work together on different fronts to find a comprehensive solution to this invasive species without destroying waterway commerce and placing the residents of Northwest Indiana at risk of devastating flooding.

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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