Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Illinois dam called ‘last line of defense’ in carp fight

Springfield — The next line of defense against keeping invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes will come at an 81-year-old lock and dam in Joliet, 50 miles south of Chicago.

The Brandon Road dam, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2004, is being investigated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a suitable location to test run new deterrents for halting Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species. In addition to the electric barriers already in place eight kilometers upstream from the Brandon Road project, the Corps hopes to evaluate the effectiveness of gates, air cannons and boat cleanses in repelling invasives.

Asian carp have spread throughout the country via the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers and their tributaries. Their massive appetites, large growth and high reproductive rates have made them dangerous invaders for native species which have struggled to compete against them for resources.

While the Corps consults the public and studies the Brandon Road site as the latest defensive position, a trio of Democrat and Republican senators and Congress members from Michigan and New York brought forward the Guarding the Great Lakes Act this month.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, in December, would order the Corps to immediately begin constructing new barriers at the Brandon Road dam. If passed, it would also require the Corps to beef up existing security measures along the Chicago Area Waterway System, the vector point many fear Asian carp will use to enter the Great Lakes.

“This is an emergency, and the time has come for decisive action before it’s too late,” Stabenow said of the bipartisan effort.

In addition to spurring the Corps into action, Stabenow’s bill would also direct the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, working under the Environ­mental Protection Agency, to investigate water quality and flood mitigation issues in the region with local and state governments. This is in preparation of a potential separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River, an $18 billion proposal from the Corps to permanently separate the basins and eliminate Chicago as a possible transfer point for Asian carp.

This provision was also put in place to please Illinois and Indiana, which are worried about what impact such separation would have on flood mitigation and drinking water quality. Currently, when heavy rains fall on the Chicago area, city staff are able to override the Chicago River’s flow and push flood waters into Lake Michigan for immediate disposal. With a physical barrier in place between the lake and river, this may no longer be an option.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York, another sponsor of the bill, said Washington’s response to the Asian carp crisis has been consistently reactive as the federal government has been unable to get ahead of the problem. “We have paid a dear price,” Slaughter said. “We have to take this problem head on.”

Rep. Dave Camp , R-Michigan, was the third sponsor of senate bill S3002, which has been referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Events in Illinois earlier this fall show that efforts to halt the water-based spread of Asian carp may not be enough to contain them. On Oct. 7, 2014, Randall E. Watters was arrested and charged in Calhoun County in the state’s southwest for the unlawful possession and sale of more than 1,800 pounds of bighead and silver carp, a Class 3 felony under United States law. If convicted, Watters faces two to five years’ imprisonment.

Meanwhile, in Canada

With this kind of illegal transport of invasive species in mind, in early December Gail Shea, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced Ottawa would take steps to limit the importation of invasive species and transfer between provinces.

According to the proposed regulatory changes, which were open to public comment until Jan. 5, the existing patchwork of provincial laws are insufficient to halt the spread of aquatic invaders. The new rules would make it illegal to import or transport the 88 “significant risk” species listed, make it easier to add new species to this list and give federal and provincial wildlife and border agents greater powers to search and enforce the rules.

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