Reporter Peter Annin is an expert on all things Great Lakes-related: the environmental importance of the lakes and how they could be impacted by climate change, and the politics of water and water-sharing agreements involving the lakes and more.
He is the author of Great Lakes Water Wars, a book which details the political fighting and compromises surrounding the Great Lakes Compact – the agreement between the eight US states and two Canadian provinces that border the lakes and governs any diversion of lake water.
He is an associate director of the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources.
Last week, he spent some time talking with Rust Wire editor Kate Giammarise. It was quite a long conversation, so here is just a little bit of what we talked about, edited for space. I hope to return to some of the other topics we discussed in some later posts.
RW: One of the hottest Great Lakes topics in the news recently concerns the invasive species Asian Carp. How worried should we be?
“This is arguably the biggest potential game-changing issue (for the lakes) in the near term” and “definitely a threat to the ecosystem,” Annin believes.
There have been 180+ exotic species introduced into the Great Lakes in the last several decades, most of which we’ve never heard of. But there have been several notable ones, such as the sea lamprey, which decimated the lake trout population, and the zebra mussel, which upset the food web in the lakes.
“The next big game changer could be Asian carp- especially in Lake Erie.” That’s because the carp are “filter feeders” – feeding on algae on the water as they swim along. Lake Erie has the most algae, so from a fisheries standpoint, “Lake Erie has the most to lose” with its huge sportfishing industry.
Lake Superior is purer, clearer, and colder – “Asian Carp will not do as well in Lake Superior,” Annin predicts.
The carp, some of which jump out of the water when they hear the sound of a motor, are so threatening because they “could literally change people’s relationship with the body of water.” If people can no longer ride their motorboats, jet skis and water skis recreationally in the lakes, “that is a serious financial, cultural and social factor that could impact public policy.”
RW: Do you feel like closing the Chicago Area Waterways/locks is a realistic solution?
“It’s the Asian Carp today. It’s going to be something else tomorrow,” such as the snakehead fish, which has been found in the Mississippi.
“The debate (over invasive species) is not over” and it will continue as long as there is an unnatural connection between the two major waterways in the US.
“We need a solution that doesn’t punish barge operators. It’s going to take some ingenuity. It’s going to take some stimulus money.” It could involve containers, or conveyor belts, but it would involve an “ecological separation”… “It’s not politically feasible to shut the canals, which are a core part of the regional economy.”
RW: For people who want to learn more, what’s a good source for Great Lakes news and information?
Annin recommends The Great Lakes Information Network as a good source with leading Great Lakes news stories of the day.