A battle between environment and economy

GLMRIS follow up

I had the chance to meet with Dan Egan at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week to discuss his current story as well as what will happen in the coming months. In the next week or so Egan's extensive look at the Army Corps' Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study will be published, but it seems to pose more questions for the Army Corps than it answers. 

According to Egan, the Army Corps has no interim plans to fix the invasive species problem prior to the reports predicted quarter century timeline. By that point Asian Carp and other invasive species may have already caused significant damage. 

One of the major cost factors within the GLMRIS report is its overcompensated solution for flood prevention in the Chicago area. Realistically, if the city were to just update its sewage treatment facilities costs for physical separation between the basins would drop dramatically. At this point in time Chicago is the only Great Lakes city that is not treating its sewage and sending the disinfected water back into the lakes, opting to instead push the toxic waste south.  

Future endeavors

One of the major topics looking ahead, according to Egan, will be the effects of the Great Lakes shipping industry on both environmental and the economical issues, specifically those ships coming through the St. Lawrence Seaway. So, if transport through seagoing vessels isn't working, then what will? 

The Research and Traffic Group recently released its 2013 summary addressing the Environmental and Social Impacts of Marine Transport in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway Region. It addresses the "potential environmental and social impacts that could occur, if cargo carried by marine vessels on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway navigation system shifted to road and/or rail modes of transport." According to the executive summary – based off data from both Canadian and United States international vessels – the most environmentally friendly option for shipping between the 100-plus Great Lakes ports and more than 59 overseas markets is through marine transport. 

Looking at marine, railway and highway transport options provided – even if all three areas of transportation are upgraded to incorporate the best environmental practices – sea vessels still show the best results in terms of energy efficiency. However, this data does not consider the possibility of further invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes through these vessels. 

Ballast water carried from overseas ships is to blame for much of the Great Lakes aquatic invasive species damage. A National Transportation Research Board report from 2008 outlined several options to solve further AIS introductions, one of which included closing the Seaway. The study claimed if international Seaway transport were to be closed off there would be an estimated additional $55 million per year in alternate shipping costs. And even then, there is no guarantee that invasive species still wont make their way into the Great Lakes basin. Either way, finding a solution that provides both the economic and environmental benefits officials are looking for will continue to be an on ongoing battle.