MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Saturday that separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems is the “ultimate solution” to prevent voracious Asian carp from overrunning the lakes.
During a meeting with governors of neighboring states, Quinn said it would be a massive and costly undertaking to rework the Chicago canal project that linked the two giant watersheds a century ago.
He defended Illinois’ efforts to block the advance of silver and bighead carp toward the lakes by hiring commercial fishermen and operating an electric barrier, but acknowledged more needs to be done.
“Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,” Quinn said. “I really feel that is the ultimate solution.”
His comment during a Council of Great Lakes Governors panel discussion on this Lake Huron resort island drew applause from government officials, environmental advocates and others in attendance. “I hope you’re clapping when Congress comes to invest the money,” Quinn said. “It has to be a national project.”
But Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican whose state has sided with Illinois in opposing separation, told reporters his position had not changed.
“It’s important that we deal with this issue but it’s also important that we deal with it in a way preserves the logistical advantages and opportunity to move commerce through our region,” Pence said.
Asian carp were imported in the 1970s to cleanse Deep South aquaculture and sewage treatment ponds. Some escaped during floods and have migrated northward in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. They have advanced to within 55 miles of Lake Michigan in the Illinois River, which connects with a shipping canal and other waters that reach Lake Michigan.
The Great Lakes region has been sharply divided over how to deal with the threat. Michigan went to court in an unsuccessful effort to force closure of Chicago-area shipping locks, then joined four other states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania – in a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago’s water district, claiming their refusal to physically separate the watersheds was creating a public nuisance. A federal judge tossed out the case in December.
Indiana and Illinois have contended that separation would boost flood risks and disrupt water tourism and commercial shipping in the busy metro area. They say the electric barrier in the shipping canal is keeping the carp at bay.
But scientists have detected Asian carp DNA in dozens of water samples collected farther upstream, some just a few miles from Lake Michigan.