Despite Hated Carp, Lake Michigan to Remain Open

WASHINGTON — Fears over the migration of a despised fish species towards Lake Michigan, were not enough for the Supreme Court to grant an emergency request to shutter a pair of Illinois locks that could serve as a passageway for the fish.

The high court's decision to deny the preliminary injunction request is sure to disappoint Michigan officials who asked for the move, but came over objections from Illinois and the Obama Administration who predicted significant economic losses and floods that would have resulted from the loss of control over the locks if the justices intervened.

" I think the Supreme Court made the right decision," senator Dick Durbin told "We value the Great Lakes as much as Michigan or any other state. We think we can stop this fish from reaching Lake Michigan and contaminating the fishery."

Asian carp are not indigenous to the Midwest but have proved exceptionally capable in moving their way upstream. They've been spotted a few miles from the Great Lake. Michigan officials call the animal a "public nuisance" and fear that "irreparable injury" will occur if the fish is able to swim into Lake Michigan. That's why they asked for the Supreme Court to intervene and close two locks that have served as a conduit for the fish.

The invasive Asian carp species is considered dangerous because of the fish's size, rapid rate of reproduction and voracious eating habits, according to the Environmental Protection Agency EPA). The species was introduced by U.S. catfish farmers to control algae, but spread quickly during floods and risk choking out other species.

The filter-feeding fish consume mainly aquatic vegetation, though some types eat mussels and snails as well. Researchers expect that carp would disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes. Commercial fishing on the Lakes is a $7 billion annual market, according to the American Sport Fishing Association.

"If the Asian carp enter the Great Lakes system, the damage to the environment and economies of the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces will be staggering with no practical end in sight," Michigan Solicitor General B. Eric Restuccia said in a brief filed with the Court late last year.

Tuesday's high court order also sets aside Michigan's request that Illinois take other immediate measures to prevent the fish from moving closer to Lake Michigan.

Illinois officials in charge of the locks that are part of a complex system of waterways throughout Chicago dispute Michigan's claims which they call "cavalier." Joined by the Obama Administration, they argued Michigan's emergency petition was an end-run around normal judicial procedures. They also defended their efforts to stop the invasive fish from moving any closer to the lake.

Another concern Illinois raised was that an injunction would have prevented them from controlling the water system to redirect storm water from flooding the city.  They feared a severe rain storm would overwhelm the infrastructure and lead to the discharge of raw sewage.

Commercial interests said they could lose hundreds of millions if the locks were closed. But Michigan claims an invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan threatens a multi-billion fishing industry.

This is not the first dispute over the Chicago water system.  More than a century ago the flow of the Chicago River was reversed to move urban waste away from Lake Michigan.  A 1922 lawsuit filed by Wisconsin failed in its efforts to challenge Illinois' ability to remove water from Lake Michigan.

The O'Brien lock sees about 7 million tons of cargo and thousands of pleasure boats pass through each year.  The Chicago lock also sees significant cargo, ferry and recreational traffic.

The justices, as is custom, provided no explanation for their decision.