Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can an Architect Save the Great Lakes from Asian Carp? by Mark Boyer

The Great Lakes are facing an invasive species crisis. Asian carp, a group of foreign invaders with no known predators and a voracious appetite, are threatening one of the greatest fresh water resources in the world. Elected officials and the Army Corps of Engineers have failed to act, and the situation is dire. But architect Jeanne Gang sees an opportunity to clean up the river, to improve Chicago's water treatment system, and to revitalize a neighborhood.

Just weeks after becoming the first architect in more than a decade to win a MacArthur genius grant, Gang released a slender book outlining her vision of how to fix the Chicago River. Reverse Effect, which is the result of a yearlong collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council, advocates completely separating Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin and restoring the natural flow of the Chicago River. Not only would the separation prevent carp and other invasive species from traveling between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, Gang's proposal would use a physical barrier as a catalyst to reimagine an urban neighborhood and to introduce green infrastructure to Chicago's South Side.

Back when Chicago was the world's hog butcher, animal waste from the stockyards and raw sewage were discharged directly into the Chicago River, creating a serious public health problem. So officials did what anyone with a backed-up toilet would do: they unclogged it and flushed it away. In 1900, work was completed on a 28-mile canal connecting the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers, reversing the flow of the Chicago River, and sending the city's waste down to the Gulf of Mexico. The canal created a vital shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, but it also created a passageway for invasive species to travel between the watersheds. Now, the only thing preventing carp from entering the lakes is an electric fence that's both ineffective and expensive.
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