The volume of cargo hauled on the Chicago Area Waterway System decreased by nearly 50 percent between 1994 and 2009, according to a new government study.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied barge traffic on the canals as part of its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS). The GLMRIS study is examining how best to keep Asian carp in the Mississippi River basin from invading the Great Lakes.
The Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) is a network of manmade canals that created an unnatural link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin. Asian carp that escaped from Arkansas fish farms in the 1970s and infested the Mississippi River have used the CAWS canals to swim toward Lake Michigan.
Three electric barriers, which do not repel all sizes of Asian carp, are the only thing preventing the menacing fish from reaching Lake Michigan.
Barges carried 13.3 million tons of cargo on the CAWS canals in 2009, down from 24.5 million tons in 1994, according to industry data. The Army Corps also found that 87 percent of barge traffic in the CAWS canals never passed through a lock.
The Army Corps report bolsters the argument that the Chicago canal system could be modified — to keep Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan — without causing major disruptions to the region’s economy.
A spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told the Chicago Tribune that the Corps study’s findings “are in agreement with the study that we commissioned two years ago that found that canal traffic was not only declining but was a far less than significant portion of the Chicago economy.”
The Army Corps deserves praise for producing this important study. The next step for the agency should be speeding up its GLMRIS study, which is scheduled for completion in 2015.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has introduced an amendment to the 2012 federal budget that would require the Army Corps to complete the GLMRIS study within 18 months.