Lake Michigan Needs To Get Healthy In The New Year Too

By JoshMogerman in News on Jan 5, 2014 9:00PM

2014_01_04_frozenLakeMichigan.jpg
Frozen Lake Michigan [Jaysin Trevino]

The New Year is here and most Chicagoans are thinking about how to undo the damage wreaked by the holiday season. A diet and new efforts to get healthy are perhaps in order.

Unfortunately, Lake Michigan is in similar shape: a mess. But a recent study out of the University of Michigan and USGS makes clear that the lake has been on a diet for some time now. And it remains to be seen if a long-awaited report due tomorrow will point the way to getting healthy.

It's not gluttony that is messing with Lake Michigan. It is invasive species. Critters that do not belong in the Great Lakes have flourished since their introduction. Zebra and quagga mussels are doing so well that they are changing the composition of the lake itself, sucking out the microscopic plants and animals to are the base of the food chain. That spells lean times for most everything else trying to make a living in the waters off our fair city.

It is a problem that would be exacerbated by the most infamous of invaders, the Asian carp infestation now looming just outside town. A century ago, Chicago’s planners had no idea that they were creating an invasive species thoroughfare when they reversed the Chicago River by connecting the Mississippi River system to the Great Lakes.

But the issue is abundantly clear now, as a rogue’s gallery of nuisance creatures have escaped from the Great Lakes into the nation’s inland waterways (and vice versa), thus forcing the country to spend billions on invasive species abatement annually.

This week, the Army Corps of Engineers is set to release a new report outlining a suite of potential solutions to the Asian carp threat, which threaten to turbo charge the work that the mussels are doing if they establish themselves in Lake Michigan. (There’s already evidence that some have made it past the Corps’ electric fence).

The sad state of the lake and the threat that quagga mussels are now exerting elsewhere in the country just make it clear that we cannot just focus on those fearsome flying fish. And that we better be a lot more serious about this than the rest of our New Year’s resolutions. (You never did go to the gym, did you?).