Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp

Posted By on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 1:01 PM

For the past few years, the US Army Corps of Engineers has been preparing a plan to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species from Mississippi River basin waters into the Great Lakes. The report, released Monday, lays out seven possible approaches toward that goal, as well as a "no action" scenario.

The seven alternatives call for some varied combination of measures to stop the spread of invasives including fish, crustaceans, aquatic plants, and microorganisms. The corps' proposals include gates, electric barriers, chemical treatment of water, boat inspections, and storm water infrastructure to prevent flooding. The specific measures and where they'd be put into place depends on the option.

But the report doesn't recommend one option over another. It lists the estimated cost of each project — the most expensive is pegged at $18.4 billion — and the estimated time frame in which each could be completed. A few of the options could take 25 years to complete. 

The study grew out of concerns over the spread of Asian carp from the Mississippi River and its tributaries into the Great Lakes via Lake Michigan. The carp, which are already established in the Mississippi and some of its tributaries but haven't been confirmed in the Great Lakes, are considered an environmental and economic threat to the Lakes. They're voracious eaters that compete with native species for food. They also reproduce and grow rapidly.

Congress authorized the study through legislation in 2007. A Chicago Tribune article published today says that Congress acted after scientists found Asian carp DNA near Lake Michigan.

The Mississippi River and Lake Michigan are connected via the Chicago Area Waterway System, a series of canals and altered rivers. No barrier existed to stop the fish from swimming from the Mississippi and into the lake at the time the 2007 legislation was passed. The Corps of Engineers, which built electric barriers to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes, recently said that the carp can make it through those barriers.

Representative Louise Slaughter pushed to have the study included in the 2007 legislation and coauthored a 2012 measure that expedited it. Yesterday she released a statement saying that the corps report doesn't go far enough. From the press release: 

“This report is a positive step toward ensuring that the Great Lakes are permanently protected from the threat of Asian Carp, but more work is needed. Bipartisan legislation that I authored with [Michigan Republican] Representative Dave Camp required the Army Corps to complete a full feasibility study for separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River. A full feasibility study is the critical next step needed to protect the unique resources of the Great Lakes and the communities that depend on them. Today’s report did not deliver a full feasibility study, which is why I will continue to work closely with Representative Camp and my colleagues in Congress to ensure the administration does everything it can to protect the environment and our economy by stopping the spread of invasive species into the Great Lakes.”
The press release from Slaughter's office incorrectly stated which legislation she authored. This post has been updated to reflect a clarification from her office.


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