Michigan asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to close shipping locks near Chicago to prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes and endangering their $7 billion fishery.
State Attorney General Mike Cox filed a lawsuit Monday with the nation's highest court against Illinois, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. They operate canals and other waterways that open into Lake Michigan.
Bighead and silver carp from Asia have been detected in those waterways after migrating north in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for decades.
Officials poisoned a section of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal this month to prevent the carp from getting closer to Lake Michigan while an electrical barrier was taken down for maintenance.
But scientists say DNA found north of the barrier suggest at least some of the carp have gotten through and may be within 6 miles of Lake Michigan. If so, the only other obstacle between them and the lake are shipping locks, which open frequently to grant passage for cargo vessels.
Fifty members of Congress last week joined environmental groups in urging closure of the locks - the same demand made in Michigan's lawsuit.
"The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable resource," Cox, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Michigan, said at a news conference in Detroit. "Thousands of jobs are at stake and we will not get a second chance once the carp enter Lake Michigan."
He likened the fish to "nuclear bombs."
Cox went directly to the Supreme Court because it handles disputes between states.
Michigan is seeking to reopen a case dating back more than a century, when Missouri filed suit after Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River and began sending sewage-fouled Lake Michigan water south toward the Mississippi River.
After that issue was resolved, several Great Lakes states - including Michigan - renewed the suit with a new complaint: Chicago's diversion of water away from the basin was harming the lakes by lowering water levels.
The high court has ruled on the matter numerous times, setting ceilings on the amount of Lake Michigan water Chicago could divert. The present limit is 2.1 billion gallons per day.
Michigan's suit argues that continued operation of the locks represents another potential injury to the lakes. It asks the court to immediately order them closed, and to create new barriers to prevent the carp from entering the ship canal from nearby waterways during floods.
Obama administration officials last week pledged $13 million to prevent carp from bypassing the electronic barrier by migrating between the Des Plaines River and the canal.
The lawsuit also asks the Supreme Court to require a study of the Chicago waterway system to define where and how many carp are in those waters and to eradicate them.
Noah Hall, an assistant professor at Wayne State University's law school, said Michigan has a good chance of prevailing if it can show the potential harm posed by Asian carp would outweigh the benefits of keeping the locks open.
"The carp invasion is a good textbook example of irreparable harm," Hall said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office was reviewing the suit and had no immediate comment, spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said.
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District spokeswoman Jill Horist called the lawsuit "unfortunate."
"It's unfortunate that there would be an assumption that this would make some positive resolution come sooner than is truly feasible," Horist said. "Even if the locks were closed there's still a variety of ways for DNA or Asian carp to enter Lake Michigan."
Messages left with the Army Corps of Engineers seeking comment were not returned.
Rep. Candice Miller, a Michigan Republican, praised the lawsuit.
"There is nothing more pressing than stopping this aggressive invasive species from entering Lake Michigan and threatening our lake's environment and all the states' economies in the Great Lakes Basin," Miller said.
Environmentalists said closing the locks would be a temporary fix, but the only long-term solution would be restoring the natural separation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system.
"The Chicago diversion was a 19th century solution to an environmental problem. Now it's causing a 21st century emergency," said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes center.
Associated Press Writers Ed White in Detroit and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this story.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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