Michigan has taken its fight against invasive Asian carp to the U.S. Supreme Court, suing Illinois to force the closure of Chicago-area waterways that provide the fish a pathway to the Great Lakes.
Experts fear that the invasive carp, which have been traveling up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for decades, will devastate the $7 billion Great Lakes fisheries. The 100-pound fish have voracious appetites and rapid reproduction rates that could ravage native lake species.
Michigan's lawsuit asks the high court to immediately close the O'Brien Lock and Dam in the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago Controlling Works in the Illinois River, a stopgap measure aimed at keeping the fish at bay.
But the state also has asked the court to permanently sever the man-made link between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, a move long urged by environmental groups and opposed by the shipping industry.
"The actions of Illinois and federal authorities have not been enough to assure us the Lakes are safe," Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox (R) said yesterday in a news release. "That's why the waterways must be shut down until we are assured that Michigan will be protected."
The lawsuit follows tests last month that showed the carp may have crossed an electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that is meant to halt their advance, putting them within 6 miles of Lake Michigan.
Earlier this month, officials poisoned a 6-mile stretch of the canal to kill off the carp while the electric barrier was down for routine maintenance. The operation netted one Asian carp, discovered Dec. 3 just above the Lockport Lock and Dam, below the electric barrier.
Michigan's suit attempts to reopen a century-old case spurred when Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River to direct its sewage flow toward the Mississippi River.
Noah Hall, a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, said the court is much more likely to take an existing case than a new one and that Michigan has a strong chance of prevailing if the case does move forward.
"This is not political grandstanding or some kind of publicity stunt," Hall said. "This is a very solid case."
The court likely would weigh the economic consequences for the shipping industry of closing the locks against the economic impacts of allowing the carp to enter the Great Lakes, which are projected to be much larger, Hall said.
The court's ruling on the preliminary injunction, which could come as soon as next week or early January, will hint how it views the larger case, Hall said.