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January 20, 2010
Asian carp DNA found in Lake Michigan for first time
Findings released after High Court declines to close locks that may block invasive fish
The Detroit News
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not immediately close shipping locks near Chicago to keep Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan, state and federal officials raised the possibility that the invasive fish may already be there.
Government officials and environmental groups from around the Great Lakes region had hoped the court would grant a preliminary injunction closing the Illinois waterways that lead to southern Lake Michigan.
For years, the invasive Asian carp has been making its way north through the Mississippi River.
Late last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox sought a temporary injunction from the court to close the O'Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works in Illinois in an effort to stop water from carrying the carp into the Great Lakes.
Tuesday morning the court released a one-sentence statement saying it would not grant that immediate relief.
Members of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, comprised of federal and state agencies working on the issue, announced that Asian carp DNA had been found in Lake Michigan at Calumet Bay as well as a half-mile up the Calumet River. A DNA sample can include fish tissue, scales or feces, but does not necessarily mean the fish are there.
"The fact is we don't know where the fish are, except that this DNA provides an indicator where they may be," said Maj. Gen. John Peabody of the Corps' Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. "It cannot tell us whether it's from a live or dead fish."
Cameron Davis, a senior adviser to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, said: "Even if we have a live carp get into Lake Michigan, that does not mean they have established a self-sustaining population there."
River reversal challenged
The Supreme Court is not completely out of the picture. Justices could decide to hear Cox's challenge to the century-old reversal of the Chicago River -- an engineering feat designed to carry the city's waste away from its drinking water supply. That diversion sent the city's sewage south via a manmade canal.
It also linked the Mississippi River Basin and Lake Michigan -- a link many believe could let the Asian carp into the Great Lakes. Cox has asked the court to review the 1929 decision that allowed Chicago to divert water from the Great Lakes for its sewage.
If that happens, the court would likely appoint a special master to oversee the case. That court official could enact temporary measures, such as closure of the locks, to be enacted while the legal process goes on.
But despite the fact that Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota have backed Cox's request, it could be weeks or months before the court decides to begin that process.
"Every day we wait is playing Russian roulette with the Great Lakes," said Mark Smith, project manager with the National Wildlife Federation.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm weighed in Tuesday, calling the court's ruling "extremely disappointing" and joining other Great Lakes governors in a call for "an immediate summit" at the White House to figure out how to stop Asian carp from infesting the lakes.
An Obama administration official said: "Coordinating efforts across all levels of government to defeat Asian carp is one of our immediate priorities. ... While we have been working with state officials on an ongoing basis, we would welcome a meeting with Great Lakes governors to address the threat of Asian carp and continued support for the work of the Regional Coordinating Committee."
Cox slams Obama
Due to its tremendous appetite for the same foods that sustain native fish species, the Asian carp is seen as a major threat to the Great Lakes ecosystems as well as all of the industries that rely on them.
A major carp presence in the lakes could impact everything from commercial and recreational fishing to the tourism industry.
It's a topic that will likely be discussed early next month at meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources.
For Cox, Tuesday's pair of announcements added up to bitter news, and he placed much of the blame for it at the feet of President Barack Obama.
"President Obama said he would not tolerate new threats to the Great Lakes, yet he has left the front door to Lake Michigan wide open," Cox said in a press release.
"Billions in economic activity and 800,000 Michigan jobs connected with the health of the lakes are at risk. His indifference is just stunning."
Cox was not alone in his criticism of the president. Noah Hall, a professor specializing in environmental law at Wayne State University, said Obama's failure to step in and compel closure of the waterways shows more concern for the objections expressed by the shipping industry and many of Illinois' elected officials.
"This was supposed to be the Great Lakes president," Hall said. "I don't think we're seeing that. What we're seeing is a Chicago president."
Others, including American Waterways Operators President and CEO Thomas Allegretti, hailed the court's decision.
"We are gratified that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken action to prevent disastrous consequences to Midwest consumers and to the hard-working Americans employed in the towing industry and in all the industries and companies that rely on the essential commodities shipped by barge," Allegretti said in a press release.
firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com (313) 222-2034 Detroit News Staff Writers Deb Price and Mark Hornbeck contributed.
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