Carp in Court: State of Michigan Petitions Supreme Court

NRDC Supports Call to Slam Door on Invasive Fish with Temporary Canal Closure

CHICAGO (December 21, 2009) -- The State of Michigan filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court today to close canals near Chicago to prevent invasive Asian carp from gaining access to the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan. The state’s suit re-opens a nearly century-old case Supreme Court case against the State of Illinois and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to force immediate action on the carp issue. Legal and policy experts from the Natural Resources Defense Council laud today’s announcement and suggest it could trigger an improvement of the region’s water infrastructure and enhance Great Lakes transportation policy.

Lake Michigan’s ecosystem is already seriously damaged by invasive species, and the introduction of the new, voracious invasive fish would turbo charge the dire threat to the entire Great Lakes system. The fish can grow to 100 pounds in size and out-compete native species in an ecosystem due to their prolific breeding and ability to filter feed 40% of their body on a daily basis.

Following is a statement from Henry Henderson, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program (and a former Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago) who has blogged extensively on the potential for the Supreme Court case to be a viable legal tool to bring increased urgency to the carp crisis:

“Michigan has made a smart move with this bid to re-open the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of threats posed by the Chicago Diversion to the well-being of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The other Great Lakes states should join Michigan in pursuing all available legal steps to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.

“Throughout this slow-motion disaster we have seen a decided lack of urgency in the actions taken to fend off the carp threat. Hopefully, Michigan’s action will light a fire. Temporary emergency closure of the locks will not fix the problem -- but it will provide breathing room while real, scientifically sound, legally binding solutions are installed and public processes are engaged. This will not be a quick long-term fix.

“Though only a fraction of the goods passing through the Chicago region are waterborne, there are legitimate shipping and business concerns about the impact that this could have on barge traffic and management of sewage. With the health of the Great Lakes at stake, however, the interests of multi-billion dollar fishing, boating, and tourism industries and the quality of 1/5 of the world’s fresh water should really take precedence.”

More information on solutions to this issue can be found on NRDC’s Switchboard blog

NRDC and a consortium of NGOs submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding temporary closure of the locks, as well as the need for permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds last week. The document is a good primer on the broader issues and can be found at

More information on the original Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Illinois, 388 US 426 et seq., can be found at