The Cities That Work Series: A regional waterway system for the 21st century
- By Ellen Alberding, President of the Joyce Foundation
- July 10, 2012
Before Asian carp made headlines, scientists warned of the threat they posed to Lake Michigan.
Biologists worried that Asian carp — brought to the U.S. in the 1970s — could escape their ponds in Mississippi if floods breached the barriers holding them in place. Sure enough, the fish escaped and are knocking at the door of Lake Michigan.
The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water. Thirty million Americans depend on the lakes for drinking water. The $7 billion fishing industry depends on a healthy ecosystem. And, there is the priceless enjoyment millions of us experience when we swim, boat, or simply walk near the lakes.
Asian carp could disrupt these experiences. By eating the food that other fish depend on, Asian carp could outcompete other fish and cause major and permanent damage to the lakes. Other invasive species are also poised to enter Lake Michigan.
The region needs a permanent solution. Metropolitan Planning Council served as an advisor for Restoring the Natural Divide, a report that calls on leaders to envision a new future. We believe, and the report documents, that it is possible to separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed. It requires a significant capital investment, but the cost of inaction is higher.
Chicago and northwest Indiana face significant problems with poor water quality, restricted recreational opportunities, flooding, basement backups and declines in commercial shipping. We have an opportunity to rethink how the region's waterways are used. The study shows these investments can be integrated to support a broader vision for the region.
A project of this magnitude might seem daunting and expensive — but maintaining our waterways, protecting the ecosystem, and preserving these waters is essential, and not doing so will cost more.
The Joyce Foundation is committed to improving the quality of life for people in the Great Lakes region and across the country. We believe that the report’s options for stopping invasive species lay the groundwork for how to address this urgent issue and care for the lakes and our communities.
We all treasure the Great Lakes: families who spend summer afternoons boating on Lake Michigan or picnicking by the shore, fishermen dropping their lines off a dock and kayakers paddling their way through downtown Milwaukee. Let’s start planning to ensure future residents can share in the same activities and to protect a natural resource that defines and unites us.
Ellen Alberding is president of the Joyce Foundation, a private foundation that supports development of policies that both improve the quality of life for people in the Great Lakes region and serve as models for the rest of the country. The Foundation's grant making supports research into Great Lakes protection and restoration, energy efficiency, teacher quality and early reading, workforce development, gun violence prevention, diverse art for diverse audiences, and a strong, thriving democracy.
On Wednesday, July 25, MPC hosted our 2012 Annual Luncheon: The Cities That Work, featuring an insightful dialogue between the mayors of Gary and Milwaukee, about opportunities to strengthen the tri-state region. Leading up to the event, we featured a series of posts from guest authors and members of our staff on issues that unite the tri-state region. Read the whole series at www.metroplanning.org/citiesthatworkseries.