President is best friend of Great Lakes environment


Gary Wilson


Occasionally we all need to be reminded of the obvious – that which we take for granted.

That includes the dedicated Great Lakes environmental groups.

They’ve been relentlessly pressuring the White House for a permanent fix to the Chicago Waterways System that will stop Asian carp. The White House via the Army Corps of Engineers promised to deliver the results of its study on that hot button topic by 2015.

Not good enough, the environmentalists repeatedly said.  They felt that the 2015 date didn’t recognize the urgency of the situation.

The White House listened and announced last week that it will present options for a “potential permanent solution” to stop advancing Asian carp by the end of 2013.

In addition to speeding the process, the White House press release said the new plan calls for “public engagement” and “collaboration with Congress.”

“This new step will result in a more focused path forward that could mean faster implementation of a permanent solution for protecting our Great Lakes from Asian carp,” John Goss, the Obama administration’s Asian carp director, said in a press release.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works said It’s an “optimized schedule……  to determine viable alternatives.”

Not impressed

Environmental groups were not impressed. While pleased with the 2013 date, they also wanted separation to be the only solution offered. They weren’t looking for options then a punt to Congress.

Reaction was swift.

In Chicago, Henry Henderson wrote in his blog that the White House announcement  was “slick PR… a press conference about nothing.” Henderson is the Natural Resources Defense Council’s top regional executive.

He also wasn’t impressed with the “engaging Congress” statement, noting that it’s the same Congress that “can’t currently bring itself to fix crumbling bridges.”  Implied:If it won’t fix bridges how will it design and construct a complex waterways system that will cost billions?

Across town, Joel Brammeier doesn’t like the options concept. He wants a plan for physical separation.

In a statement, he called for the administration to … “commit to the solution we know works — separation….” Brammeier runs the Alliance for the Great Lakes and was one of the first to call for physical separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.

Now what?

Where does that leave us?

Hopefully Henderson is wrong with his “slick PR” assertion. Time will tell.

And Brammeier may be right that physical separation will work. But telling the President and Congress that there’s only one way and it’s his way is a tough sell when you’re asking for billions of dollars to re-plumb America’s heartland.

But these PR skirmishes have nothing to do with the project’s biggest problem.

The concept of separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River is leaderless. No elected official with any gravitas or clout has taken ownership.

It’s clear that separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi isn’t a priority for the Obama administration. It has fought it in the courts and prevailed so far.  Besides, in the current political and economic environment should anyone really expect the President to ask Congress for $5 billion for the Chicago Waterways System?


President Obama has staked his Great Lakes reputation on restoration and he did that because environmental groups asked him to.

Others need to step forward

Political leadership for the separation concept needs to come from the outside the White House and it will have to include key figures in Illinois, Chicago and Indiana. To date, none have stepped up.

For proof, one only has to look at the statements of Illinois politicians Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the release this year of a similar separation feasibility study.

They acknowledged the problem and welcomed solutions, but not one of them made a case for separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River. Call it tepid support or damning with faint praise, but it wasn’t an endorsement.

I’m hard-pressed to name another special interest group that has done as well as Great Lakes environmentalists have with this administration.

They should slow down and reflect for a few minutes about the executive branch:

  • They have a president who made a campaign pledge to fund Great Lakes restoration and he has, even in the most difficult of economic times.
  • When the Asian carp issue blew up a few years ago they asked for one person to coordinate the response and they got the position and money to support it.
  • They asked for a carp plan sooner than 2015 and essentially got the date, if not the preferred solution.

They’ve wished for a lot from Obama and most of those wishes have been granted. He’s the best friend the Great Lakes have ever had.

If you’re looking for someone to take the separation case to Washington, start with those heavyweight Illinois elected officials — Quinn, Emanuel and Durbin. The proposed reconfiguration of the waterways would happen on their turf.

They all have the president’s phone number.


12 thoughts on “President is best friend of Great Lakes environment

  1. The Obama administration refused for years to do anything about the control of Asian Carp after repeated attempts by state and local politicians along the Great Lakes. He is no friend to the Great Lakes and the only move he will make is purely political to get him reelected. Yep, we need change in Washington and the major change is to get this guy out of office and vote in someone who really cares about the Great Lakes, our country, and our quality of living in this country. It can happen and it starts with you — the voter!

  2. Jocko,

    I believe the entire study will take longer than 18 months due to the scope of the study. The scope of the study was published last year and was developed from a public input and review process.

    The problem is not so much a lack of transparency but a lack of public relations by the Army Corps to emphasize the work they have done to make the process transparent to the public. Each phase of the project goes through a public input phase which is followed by the Corps developing an action plan based on that input. When the action is completed the results are also published. They do send out press releases on all these activities but they are not always covered by the media. They have been sending me e-mails on all the opportunities for the public to comment as well as when reports are available on the Army Corps web site because I have submitted comments and have asked to be notified by e-mail of their progress.

    However, for those who are only casually interested in the issue and are relying on the press for information it seems like everything is being done in secrete.

    The Corps has been criticized for this deliberate process of seeking input, summarizing results, and developing action plans based on public input because some people feel it is all just stonewalling. However, I believe that previous congressional mandates require this methodology.

    The other problem is that, while the Corps has published a lot of data, they are not yet at a point where they are ready to draw conclusions from that data because they have more work left to do to complete the entire picture on the many issues outlined in their scoping report which was also developed from public input.

    Could the Corps be telling us more. Sure. For instance, they may have some preliminary or tentative recommendations or conclusions. However, because this issue has become so politicized and open to criticism from politicians and special interest groups who want to know nothing more than where to throw dirt into a canal, I believe the Corps will hold conclusions and recommendations until they have all the facts and all their ducks in a row. They have also wisely chosen to not be drawn into a debate at this point in the study because they are supposed to be objective and not prejudiced to any final conclusion. I believe that is the case and I believe they really have taken the high road in the way they have handled the entire issue.

  3. I believe what George said about a hydrological separation of waterways not amounting to an ecological separation of waterways to be true. This in itself seems to place the solution outside the functioning of the Army Corps of Engineers. What George said about the study taking longer than 18 months is from the perspective of the Army Corps of Engineers… Having said that, I think the Army Corps of Engineers might be in the best position for coordinating a study that involves so many states. The problem is the Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t have the ability or knowledge to determine appropriate ways to fish for carp or address other environmental concerns. I may be wrong, but I did not perceive George as saying nothing could be done in less time.

  4. In 18 months the Asian Carp could pull off 6 to 8 more spawn events, and there’s billions of carp, couple million eggs per female. 60% of the bio-mass in the Illinois river etc.. More time not good.

  5. Hey George. Wondering how you know the 18 month timeline doesn’t work…? I am not saying you are wrong, but the complete lack of transparency from the Corps makes it pretty hard to evaluate.

  6. George post an address of a bait shop near you, I’ll send some facts and data, that don’t make the front page. That invite goes to anyone. We have several options, but we are held hostage by the alewife/salmon show. Check the goby spread map update 4/26/12 Only a couple pockets left where gobies haven’t been found “yet” in the center of Michigan. Keep in mind gobies don’t grow too big for predators (which we have) Asian Carp do! The carp will spread inland, probably faster than the gobies did. They have to do a major rearranging of the furniture in Chicago, all we have to do is not worry about what happens to the alewives, and restore the native fish/predator population.

  7. I believe the President is the best friend of anyone who will vote for him. I believe he speaks with a forked tongue.

  8. I am not a fan of the President, however, I would take issue with the belief that he could have shut down Chicago’s waterways.

    The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that all navigable waterways fall under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution which gives Congress, not the President, absolute power over the management of all those waterways because those waterways are owned collectively by all the States of the Union. The only time I can recall when the President used “executive emergency power” to limit commerce on navigable waterways was for short periods of time to reduce property damage during periods of extreme flooding. Unilaterally shutting down the waterways in Chicago because a fish might swim into Lake Michigan would be an abuse of the President’s power and would be an impeachable offense.

    It should also be noted that last year an attempt to cut funding for the operation of the locks on Chicago’s waterways was defeated by an overwhelming large bipartisan vote in Congress.

    Under the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 Congress authorized “The Secretary(of the Army), in consultation with appropriate Federal, State, local, and nongovernmental entities, shall conduct, at Federal expense, a feasibility study of the range of options and technologies available to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and other aquatic pathways.” However, funding for the study was not authorized by Congress until 2010.

    At some point in time (I can’t remember by whom, why or when) the Army Corps was asked to make a specific recommendation as to the single best way to achieve this goal at all 18 points of potential migration and that necessitated a much more detailed analysis of the issue. In order to make an informed and responsible recommendation the Corps had to identify a number of options, their relative effectiveness and cost, their impact on the water quality of the Great Lakes, and complete a more realistic assessment as to the true threat Asian Carp pose to the Great Lakes in order to choose a response proportional to the actual threat. These are all important factors that would lead to making an intelligent choice as to how to address the Asian Carp and other invasive species issues in an environmentally responsible, timely, and cost effective manner.

    While we would all like to find an answer now, the reality is that it will take a lot longer than the 18 months demanded by some politicians and environmental groups to complete the comprehensive study that would give the Army Corps all the answers they need to make and defend an intelligent decisions in Chicago and the other 18 migration points. And, while the Army Corps knows that separating Chicago’s waterways was never going to be a feasible strategy due to its cost, its lack of effectiveness, its pollution of Lake Michigan, and its long lead time, politically they had to fully investigate that option which is extremely complex and, quite frankly, the biggest waste of time in the whole process.

    What the Corps did, and rightfully so, was to say they are not going to make a half cocked decision without a comprehensive study just because a few congressman and special interest groups decided to politicize the issue by claiming we can’t wait for the information needed to make an intelligent decision. So, they kicked the can back to Congress with the understanding that the study will be continued after congress makes a choice. If the study then shows Congress’s choice is not feasible or cost effective, the whole process will be repeated.

    In the end the decision will be a political compromise and take years longer than if we had been patient and let the Corps to do their job.

  9. As a biologist, environmental activist and hunter and fisher, I am woefully disappointed in the Obama administration’s near indifferent response to the imminent threat of Asian carp. I propose that the
    Silver carp be renamed the Obama carp in commemoration of the man who allowed the likely the most disruptive of the 190 known aquatic invasive species to have it’s way with the Great Lakes.

  10. President is ‘NOT’ the Great Lakes best friend. Obama lied and short funded the GLRI to make sure there would be less money for our restoration projects. That money was diverted to Republican programs to further pollute the environment. Obama can use his executive emergency power to order the Chicago canal closed. Instead he is using the USACE to stall and delay so his ‘Obama Carp’ will fill the Great Lakes as his legacy.

  11. The “end” of 2013 means the Asian Carp could pull of potentionally 6 to 8 more spawn events, and there’s billions of them spread across 23 states. I have to agree with Henderson, the announcements always start out with the Obama administration has etc…… I’ve been to several Asian Carp meetings, pony shows for the most part. We have spent/spending $150. million bucks on the carp fight so far, The asian Carp population continues to double and spread. Studies that are already done and paid for are ignored and new studies proposing things that don’t even exist, take thier place. The lake Michigan fishery managers idea of fighting invasive species is filling lake Michigan back up with alewives (an invasive species). I’m not being negative I’m looking at the problem, and the problem isn’t the invasive species.

  12. Gary,

    As much as I hate to admit it, the Chicago, Illinois & Indiana politicians may be showing more objectivity and common sense than either Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council or Joe Brammeier of the Alliance For The Great Lakes. My impression is that both those organizations are focused on severing Chicago’s waterways more because of their long standing resentment of the “unnatural” reengineering of the Chicago River rather than finding a feasible solution for stopping Asian Carp.

    What we already know is that physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins with a land bridge or dam in Chicago will in no way stop invasive species migration and certainly not Asian Carp.

    The list of aquatic species that have migrated past fixed land bridges and dams is as long as the history evolution itself. To understand why separating the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins with a dam or land bridge will not stop invasive species you first have to understand that there is a difference between hydrological separation and ecological separation. The truth is that hydrological separation has never effectively stopped migration of aquatic species between ecological systems that support their existence. To see evidence of this all you have to do is ask yourself how all the lakes and waterways, including the Great Lakes, came to have such a diverse and yet shared population of aquatic species even though many are isolated by significant land bridges.

    Just look at a few examples. Northern Snakehead have been found above Virginia’s Great Falls near Whites Ferry on the Potomac River. Great Falls was supposedly a natural barrier that the fish was unable to cross. In Alaska invasive Northern Pike have migrated from the east and are now found in several isolated lakes. Zebra Mussels are now found across the continental divide in California. Lake Michigan Lake Trout are now found in Yellowstone Lake. And, more to the point, Asian Carp are found in numerous lakes and waterways completely isolated by substantial land bridges, dams, and even sealed locks. In short, separating the watersheds is neither a permanent or effective solution.

    Perhaps one reason why the Army Corps is looking at multiple strategies is that, being the good soldiers that they are, they realize that fixed fortifications are of little permanent value regardless of whether you are at war with invasive species or the armies of foreign invaders. The reality is that, before they could even be completed, barriers across Chicago’s waterways would have no more relevance in stopping Asian Carp and other invasive species than the old bunkers that once made up the Maginot Line across Europe had in stopping the Nazis from invading France.

    With a total economic, environmental, and infrastructure cost that will certainly be in the $10s of billions, and a construction timeline that will most likely be over 25 years, using a 19th century barrier strategy would be a failure of biblical proportions and a monument to stupidity. If we have any chance at all of resolving this issue we need to learn from what nature has shown us and from our past experiences.

    I think the Army Corps gets it – it’s going to take a 21st century solution to address invasive species migration and now is the time to abandon what does not, and has not, worked and start to develop and implement new strategies based on science rather than shovels.

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