Inspired by nature
The subject on the cover of the June issue, "Designs inspired by nature," caught my attention. I am a longtime proponent of finding solutions to technical problems from nature. Centuries ago, an Arab scientist tried to copy birds in flight and constructed a crude lightwood wing and tried flying like a bird. Even today, watching a bird in flight or a hummingbird suspended is an amazing sight because what is observed is perfection. Numerous such phenomena exist in nature for us to observe, study, and apply. We can learn a lot from animals, birds, and fish — and the ideas can be utilized in our life through applied sciences. I am impressed that Festo Corp. has used this connection with nature to design its products. A lifetime can be spent at this endeavor and it may help us find easy solutions to complex problems.
The following letters discuss efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the spread of Asian carp to the Great Lakes. We'll revisit this topic in the November issue.
Lemon out of lemonade
Why don't people just start eating the carp? Perhaps it's similar to the view of hardhead catfish on the Gulf Coast: Locals will not eat them, but people come down from the north in the winter to catch them. My family has eaten the fish for years. They have small bones, but if cooked properly, they are delicious: Put them in a pressure cooker for about four minutes, dip them in buttermilk and corn meal, and fry. Carp are a light flaky fish, not as good as perch, but definitely better than catfish nuggets. Carp could also be used for animal fodder: People spend thousands of dollars for cat food with fish scraps. Ever looked in a can of cat food? It's full of bones — a lot more than carp have.
Responsibility and reality
The waterways in question are the responsibility of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC), not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). The system is complex and consists of the Chicago River (North, Main, and South Branches), North Shore Channel, Sanitary and Ship Canal, Cal-Sag Channel, and Little Calumet River. They are all connected by natural and constructed means, with the purpose of reversing their flow away from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River and hence the Mississippi. This reversal took place on January 2, 1900, with Admiral Dewey of Spanish-American War fame officiating. There are three controlling locks on Lake Michigan, two manned by the COE with one automated, all controlled by the MWRDGC. All of this was done to prevent polluting the water supply taken from the lake. The downstream end terminates at Lockport, Illinois, with a lock, spillway, and hydro plant joining the Illinois River along with the Des Plaines River.
The lawsuit and attempt by five states to have the Asian carp contained is unfounded. Only one fish was discovered in Lake Calumet (off Lake Michigan) with no proof that it swam upstream through the above system. Another was found in Chicago's Garfield Park Lagoon, not connected to any waterway. Both could have been deposited by fishermen. The State of Illinois has entered into an agreement with Europe to export any carp that are caught by the electric nets set to trap them. Carp are considered a delicacy over there. As a kid, I used to see huge carp in the numerous harbors along the Chicago shoreline and I remember my mother including them when making gefilte fish.
Supposedly there are Asian carp found in Michigan rivers that flow into the Great Lakes. How are they being restricted from entering the Great Lakes? What has any government agency done to successfully prevent invasive species such as alewives, gobies, or zebra mussels from entering the Lakes? In addition to this lawsuit, there's also a push for the MWRDGC to chlorinate the effluent discharge from its seven plants into the system and re-reverse the system back into Lake Michigan. Not only would we return to all the old waterborne diseases, but the millions of dollars of commerce plying the waterways would be stifled.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it — leave things the way they are. I'm an environmentalist and mechanical engineer, retired from 30 years of public service with the City of Chicago and the MWRDGC.