Thursday, January 7, 2010

Carp in the Courts

There’s a children’s book called A Carp in the Bathtub. It is a story about how Jewish women would put carp in the bathtub to keep them fresh until they were ready to make gefilte fish for holidays. The story always resonated with me because my mother used to tell the same story about her mother. The fish in the book took up temporary residency in a Brooklyn apartment bathtub. My bubbie’s fish came out of Lake Ontario and went into a bathtub in Hamilton Ontario. I don’t think it was an Asian carp, the kind getting all the publicity around the Great Lakes these days.

Perhaps the authors of the children’s should write a sequel. They could call it Carp in the Courts, because that’s where carp are these days, along with the people who are trying to prevent them from getting into the Great Lakes.

Wisconsin has joined Michigan, and other Great Lakes States in a lawsuit trying to close the locks and canals that would bring the fish into Lake Michigan and then the other lakes. The impact on the environment, to say nothing of the huge fishing industry, would be enormous. The Supreme Court is hearing the case this week.

Here on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, we hear both sides of the story. Illinois officials claim that closing the canal would endanger public safety and disrupt the flow of cargo. Shipping, I can understand. It is estimated that 14.6 million tons of commodities, including and iron and steel move through the channel every year, and it is a $1.65B industry, but I couldn’t find any data on how closing the canal would endanger public safety. If someone can explain that to me, I’d appreciate it.

Illinois is also questioning whether finding a small amount of carp DNA in the lake really means that an invasion is imminent. Not surprisingly, President Obama, previously Senator from Illinois, and the Feds oppose closing the channel.

The thing that I find so interesting is that aspects of the legal case are not new. Wisconsin and other states have taken issue with the reversal of the Chicago River for decades. That Lake Michigan is linked to the Mississippi River in an unnatural way through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and has been for over 100 years, is partly the reason for the current invasion of these monster fish. In 1929, several states filed complaints and the courts ruled that the reversal was illegal but nothing was ever done about it.

If you want to know more about this ongoing dispute, read The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin. I know I have mentioned this book before (February 20, 2009) but it is worth mentioning again. Chapter 5 of Annin’s book is called Reversing A River. It reads like a novel about politics in Illinois, always a fascinating topic.

Maybe I am wrong about a book on Asian Carp. Instead, perhaps someone should make a movie. It could be modeled after the movie Chinatown. Remember that one? It a classic and it is also about water and politics based in parts of real life events in what has been called the California Water Wars. Politics and water are great topics for books and movies - and blogs - these days.

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