Dec 21, 2009

Could this be the toilet's last flush?

  Over one hundred years ago, the city of Chicago connected the Great Lakes to the Illinois River by reversing the flow of the Chicago River.  The move was aimed at draining sewage from Lake Michigan and therefore the city.  Chicago's move has spent some time in the halls of the Surpreme Court and has a history I admittedly don't fully understand.  Before you read this, I should also declare I do not fully understand the details of the connection between Lake Michigan and the mighty Mississippi

  Now the US Supreme Court may soon be in a position to reverse the reversal because the state of Michigan has filed suit. The latest suit requests that the connection be permanently severed in order to keep those pesky asian carp out of Lake Michigan.  Ever since the great rainy season of 1993, asian carp have been slowly making their way to Lake Michigan, and recent DNA testing indicates the carp have already found their way past electric barrier and are potentially already in the lake.

  There is a lot of interesting information provided in the link above.  One thing that caught my attention is the legal limit on the amount of water allowed to flow from Lake Michigan via the Illinois River basin; currently set at 2.1 billion gallons per day.  I've read about half of that is sent downstream while the other half is absorbed as drinking water.  According to Waterwatch, over the past ten years the Illinois River has averaged about 9.8 billion gallons per day at a measurement station close to my home.  1 billion gallons represents 10% (or so) of that daily average and I think that is significant.  Further upstream the impact will be larger (16% for those of you in Marseilles).

  So....IF the Chicago River is actually draining at the maximum of 2.1 billion gallons per day and IF the resolution is to shut off the faucet, it leaves me with some questions.  Where is all that water going to go?  What environmental and societal impact would a 10-15% reduction in flow cause to those of us downstream?  Is Chicago still draining sewage (surely it's treated now) down the Chicago River, and if so, where will the sewage go?  Hopefully questions such as these are considered before a decision is made.

  I'm not yet sure how I stand on could argue such a decision would simply be reverting the waters to their natural states; something I would normally support.  However, one hundred years of industrial progress can't be ignored.  In fact, the basis of the suit is to protect a $7 billion fishing industry that was not present 100 years ago.

  Maybe Asian carp represent a potential to build that commercial fishing industry up to $10billion...they are fish after all.  And maybe this is a chance for the Illinois River to ditch it's nickname of "Chicago's Toilet."  Snagging fewer condoms would be a bright side of lower flow, but I'll have to forget about Simon's Durex Streamers.

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