Thursday, July 22, 2010

Envisioning A 21st Century Chicago Area Waterway System

Jul 22: Great Lakes states and cities joined together to announce an initiative that seeks to transform water management and transportation in the Chicago region for the 21st Century, while safeguarding the Great Lakes from economic and ecological damage caused by Asian carp and other biological invasions from the Mississippi River basin. According to a release, the initiative will seize upon one of the greatest challenges in the region from Asian carp as an opportunity to develop options to protect both basins while significantly advancing water quality, flood control, transportation, and the economy in the Chicago area.
    A team led by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, organizations representing governors, state officials and mayors, will convene users, stakeholders and technical experts to identify the best economic and environmental solutions for separating the Mississippi River basin from the Great Lakes in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), the connection between the two watersheds created in 1900.
    Titled Envisioning a Chicago Area Waterway System for the 21st Century, the 18-month initiative will assess modernization and improvements to the Waterway System in a way that enhances commercial, recreational and environmental benefits, while preventing the transfer of damaging invasive species. The collaborative received initial funding from two Chicago-based funders: the Joyce Foundation and the Great Lakes Protection Fund. Other funders across the Great Lakes region are being approached to contribute to this $2 million project.
    Through the project's intensive stakeholder outreach process, all key interests -- shippers, water managers, government agencies, citizen groups, recreational and commercial boaters, tribes, and others -- will be engaged by the team leaders to explore and evaluate options for separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The natural barriers between these two watersheds were artificially removed during the last century. The recent confirmation of Asian carp on the Lake Michigan side of the dispersal barrier increases the importance of designing permanent, long-term solutions.
    U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said, "The best permanent solution to protecting the Great Lakes from damaging aquatic invasive species is to separate the two watersheds by closing the artificial connection in the Chicago area." Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said, "This project is not meant to displace the essential and urgent work of other institutions and governmental entities. Their responsibility for immediate action to prevent the spread of the Asian carp remains. This study tackles the larger, longer-term task of redesigning the waterways for sustainability. Both jobs need to be done, and both need to succeed."
    Access a lengthy release from GLC with more information (
click here). Access a fact sheet on the initiative (click here).