Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Fol­low the Edi­to­rial Board on Twit­ter: @ cste­d­i­to­ri­als. Send let­ters to let­ters@ suntimes. com.

The Great Lakes have a new res­i­dent, bra­chionus ley­digii, but no­body’s rolling out the wel­come mat.

Although the species of mi­cro­scopic zoo­plank­ton may prove to be harm­less, it’s yet an­other non- na­tive species in­vad­ing and pos­si­bly threat­en­ing our wa­ters.

Nor should we be pleased that an in­va­sive Asian carp re­cently was caught in the Lit­tle Calumet River just nine miles away from Lake Michi­gan, ev­i­dently by­pass­ing bar­ri­ers en­gi­neers have built to keep the fish out. Should Asian carp ac­tu­ally make their way into Lake Michi­gan, they could fur­ther up­set, and po­ten­tially top­ple, the na­tive ecosys­tem.

Both wor­ri­some de­vel­op­ments should spur us to pick up our game in pro­tect­ing the Great Lakes from aquatic in­vaders.

In­stead, key lead­ers in Congress and Spring­field op­pose do­ing more to pro­tect the Great Lakes. They balk at the cost and fear that greater lake pro­tec­tions would ham­per the ship­ping in­dus­try.

That’s a dan­ger­ously short­sighted view.

Com­mer­cial fish­ing, boating and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties pour $ 62 bil­lion a year into the Great Lakes econ­omy, by some es­ti­mates, and those in­dus­tries could be hurt badly if Asian carp make their way into the lake. Lake Michi­gan is ar­guably Chicago’s sin­gle great­est as­set — the very rea­son the city was es­tab­lished here — and it re­quires stronger pro­tec­tions, not weaker.

In May, a U. S. Se­nate com­mit­tee ap­proved a bill that would weaken reg­u­la­tions de­signed to keep in­ter­na­tional ships from bring­ing in­va­sive or­gan­isms to the Great Lakes in bal­last wa­ter, which ships take on and pump out to im­prove sta­bil­ity. Bal­last wa­ter al­ready has dumped the quagga and ze­bra mus­sels in the lakes, and those crea­tures con­stantly block in­take pipes for Chicago’s drink­ing wa­ter — an ex­pen­sive prob­lem.

Bal­last wa­ter also, in all prob­a­bil- ity, ex­plains how bra­chionus ley­digii hitch­hiked its way here. Weaker reg­u­la­tions would open the door for more un­wanted aquatic ar­rivals.

Mean­while in Spring­field, the Rauner ad­min­is­tra­tion op­poses a $ 275 mil­lion plan by the U. S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michi­gan by adding elec­tric and sound bar­ri­ers to ex­ist­ing de­fenses at the Bran­don Road Lock and Dam on the Des Plaines River near Joliet.

If Rauner be­lieves the state’s share of the con­struc­tion cost is too high — $ 95 mil­lion, as es­ti­mated by the state — and the bar­rier would hurt the barge in­dus­try, he should present his own plan to keep the carp out.

Joel Bram­meier, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Al­liance for the Great Lakes, says he is baf­fled by the Rauner ad­min­is­tra­tion’s es­ti­mates of the costs and of the neg­a­tive im­pact on the econ­omy. In truth, he says, the state’s share of the cost would be far less than $ 95 mil­lion, and any ship­ping de­lays would be min­i­mal.

But the best ar­gu­ment for tak­ing ac­tion is this: Once Asian carp or other in­va­sive species make their way into the Great Lakes, there’s no get­ting them out. And that could lead to a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing se­ries of events, with aquatic food chains break­ing, the fish­ing in­dus­try pay­ing the price and our crown jewel lake — a haven for tourists and recre­ational fish­er­men alike — thrown into dis­ar­ray.


This Asian carp was re­cently caught nine miles from Lake Michi­gan.

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