Government, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

‘Urgent’ need for Asian carp strategy

The Army Corps of Engineers has cast doubt on the electric barrier at Chicago.

January 10, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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The head of the Great Lakes Commission and key Michiganders in Congress say it’s time to stop debating how to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan at Chicago — and do something.

“We’ve got to have action on this problem. It’s urgent,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the commission, which represents eight Great Lakes states and is headquartered in Ann Arbor.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just released a report on the Asian carp threat to invade Lake Michigan, and it casts doubt on the effectiveness of the electric barrier in the shipping canal near Chicago that is supposed to stop them. The canal is connected with the Mississippi River system.

Congress asked the Corps seven years ago for a report on how to stop the Asian carp, and the report issued Jan. 6 lists several alternatives but does not recommend any in particular.

Eder said the report is “problematic” because it leaves it open to much debate between the states and Congress “to make a decision on how to move forward.”

“That’s going to be a difficult and slow process to reach consensus on the best path forward,” he said.

“We’ve got to have action on this problem; it’s urgent,” said Eder. “The Corps report provides a lot of useful information, but it does not respond with the urgency that is warranted.”

Eder said there is data indicating adult population Asian carp in the canal are within 20 miles of the electric barrier, and although their advance has seemed to stop in the last couple of years, the reason is not known.

The GLC issued its own report two years ago that outlines three options for physically separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River system.

“We thought it was feasible,” said Eder, adding that the conclusions were the result of an 18-month engineering study. He said the options would keep the carp out while also protecting the Chicago region from additional flooding and water quality problems, while maintaining use of the waterway for transportation.

“We found that separation could take place and that it could cost about $4 billion, roughly, over a construction period of about 20 years,” said Eder.

The Corps report — the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study — concludes it could take decades and cost up to $18 billion to keep the Asian carp and other invasives from entering Lake Michigan.

The GLC is evaluating the study and will publicly comment on it at a later date.

Eder said even a cost of $4 billion to effectively separate Lake Michigan from the Mississippi is “a lot of money.”

However, he noted that sport fishing in all of the Great Lakes combined has an estimated annual economic value of about $7 billion. Asian carp have dramatically degraded the aquatic environment for other species of fish where they have spread.

“So a one-time investment of $4 billion over 20 years to protect an industry that generates annually $7 billion isn’t necessarily a bad investment,” said Eder.

According to John Austin, director of the Michigan Economic Center, commercial use of the Great Lakes for shipping is the basis for 65,000 Michigan jobs and $3.3 billion in annual wages. He estimates that anglers on Michigan’s Great Lakes waters contribute $2 billion to the economy each year.

Eder said the GLC staff will meet with the organization’s commissioners and board of directors to provide their review of the report “and hopefully come to some conclusions and recommendations to present to the governors and to Congress about what we think has to happen next. We need a decision and we need it quickly,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, initiated legislation that forced the Corps to complete its long-awaited report. After its release last week, they called on the Corps to work with Congress to deliver concrete project recommendations that Congress can approve, “so work to stop the carp can begin as soon as possible,” states Stabenow’s website.

“We need work to begin on projects to permanently prevent Asian carp from destroying the Great Lakes, and we need it to begin now,” said Stabenow, adding, “It’s time to move past reports and get moving on actual projects that will stop Asian carp.” She said hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on the Great Lakes.

Stabenow’s website cites “alarming incidents that illustrate how close Asian carp are to the Great Lakes and how vulnerable the lakes are to invasion and ecological destruction.”

She said that in 2013, Asian carp DNA was discovered in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan, and a live carp was caught in Flatfoot Lake near Chicago, located next to the Calumet River, which feeds directly into Lake Michigan. In December, a joint Army Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report showed fish were moving through the electronic barrier in the Chicago Waterway meant to serve as Lake Michigan’s last line of defense against the carp.

On her website, Stabenow also notes that, at one point in 2012, the electronic barriers went down temporarily, leaving the Great Lakes “unprotected from infestation.”

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