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Army Corps releases its report on Asian carp

Posted on January 16, 2014

Washington — A report is not a plan, and a plan is needed to combat the Asian carp that appear ready to invade the Great Lakes, say some elected officials of a long-awaited report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Other Great Lakes experts and advocates, meanwhile, cheered the plan’s inclusion of complete physical separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, among eight alternatives for blocking alien species that threaten to invade and drastically transform them.

Alternatives range from current efforts to complete physical separation of the waters. Implementation of some could take 25 years, at costs of up to $18 billion-plus.

“Unfortunately, the Army Corps’ proposals for projects that could stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes are not yet developed enough to allow work on those projects to begin.,” said a press statement from U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.

In 2007, Congress directed the Corps to consider options and technologies to block waterborne movement of aquatic nuisance species, including Asian carp, between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Creation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study Report was sped up by two years by the Stop Invasive Species Act, written by Camp and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Said Camp in a news release the day the report was released: “I am concerned many of the Corps’ proposed options rely on undeveloped technology and do not adequately account for the region’s transportation needs.”

The Corps report makes no recommendation, instead presenting what it called “design and cost information at the 5-percent design level,” along with potential impacts to water quality, flood-risk management, natural resources, and navigation.

Corps officials made it clear they weren’t looking to make the call.

“This report is unique,” said Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham, Corps Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commander, in a news release, “because it identifies a range of options, allows for the incorporation of future technologies, and presents courses of action that may be incorporated now to reduce short-term risk.”

The waterways were connected more than a century ago when the Chicago Area Waterway System was created to, among other goals, bring Lake Michigan water to Chicago, and, with that city’s wastewater added, send it down the Mississippi.

Species from one waterway were free to swim into the other. Recently and notably, bighead and silver carp that had escaped from fish farms into the Mississippi took firm hold in it and spread, and now threaten the Great Lakes.

Representatives of several conservation groups, in a telephone press briefing the day after the massive report was released, said they hadn’t had time to fully review it, but were cheered by inclusion of the total-separation alternative they called the only solution.

“No action, and non-structural actions are non-starters,” said Joel Brammeier, of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Robert Hirschfeld, of the Illinois-based Prairie River Network, called the existing electric barrier “the last line of defense, but one that is significantly fatally flawed.” Fish can swim through, he said.

Hirschfeld said the Corps report makes clear, “There’s only one way to avoid transfer of all species of concern – physical separation.”

Henry Henderson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Chicago stands to benefit, not suffer, from a total-separation alternative. “The reality that the Asian carp has revealed is a system and

infrastructure that is basically broken.” Fixing it would improve quality, increase flood protection, and even aid shipping, he said, and represent a large portion of the project cost.

Cheryl Kallio, of the Petoskey-based group Freshwater Future, said polls in several states, including Michigan, have shown strong support for physical separation of the systems.

Brammeier said intermediate steps would be needed within the 25-year framework, too, to stymie movement of the invasive species.

Marc Smith, of the National Wildlife Federation, said popular support has built for the idea that, “The Great Lakes are too important to not do all we can to protect them from Asian carp and other invasive species.”

The Corps will begin hosting public meetings on the report this month, including meetings in Ann Arbor and Traverse City. The report, its summary, and details on public meetings are available at the GLMRIS website at glmris.anl.gov; comments may be left there, too.

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