A new study released today shows that separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species is not only possible, but also critical to improve and enhance Chicago’s water infrastructure and protect the Great Lakes.

Released by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, this study provides manageable solutions to stopping carp from invading the Great Lakes.   As these jumping, jumbo-sized fish keep swimming towards Lake Michigan, the study refocuses the Great Lakes region on a permanent solution and away from temporary band-aid approaches that do not protect the Great Lakes nor the Mississippi River basins from the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species.

Separation is Feasible

The study clearly shows that separation is feasible.  It outlines three scenarios to restore the natural divide between two of America’s greatest water systems.  The report underscores that we have the technology to do this.   This should end excuses and spark the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do its job.  This is a major step forward and should compel the U.S. Army Corps to finish its study sooner rather than the agency’s self-stated – and utterly unacceptable – completion date of 2015.

Necessary Investment

According to the study, the cost of just barriers themselves is as low as $109 million.  With the addition of all enhancments to upgrade Chicago’s water infrastructure and water quality – the mid-system estimates come in at a projected $4 billion – or, approximately $1 per month from now until 2059.  (The highest estimates are $9 billion.)  In other words, for the the price of a cup of coffee once per month, we get a improved and enhanced Canal System, and protect the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from invasive species.  This is a bargain!

For a resource that provides over 35 million people with clean drinking water, contains 20% of the Earth’s fresh surface water, and supports and robust tourism industry and world class fishery, which generates over $7 billion in economic benefit annuallythis is a necessary investment.

These investments in Chicago to block carp and protect the Great Lakes are well within the scope of other large scale metropolitan infrastructure projects.  This amount is in-line for what cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland are spending to upgrade their sewer systems to reduce sewage contamination.  In terms of cost comparisons, the Environmental Protection Agencies Watershed Needs Survey 2008 estimates infrastructure costs for Chicago and suburbs to address combined sewer overflows (CSO’s) at $7.48 billion.

We already know that the annual cost of invasive species to the Great Lakes is at least $200 million per year.  A failure to confront the Asian carp will only add to that price tag – and will be far more expensive for people and communities in the Great Lakes.  Given the enormous stakes in stopping Asian carp, this investment needs to be shared because the benefits will be shared by everyone in the region.

As such, this is one investment that we cannot afford not to make.

Game Changer

This study is a revelation. It puts solutions on the table that are both feasible and affordable.  The onus is clearly now on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its own study so the nation can stop talking about “if” a solution is possible, and instead focus on ‘when’ people can be put to work to solve this problem once and for all.