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Environmental Blog

  • 31
  • January
  • 2014


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GLMRIS Provides a Glimmer of Hope in the Fight Against Asian Carp

On January 6, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) report outlining options available to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. While the report aims to prevent the spread of thirteen species, the primary focus of the report is keeping the invasive Asian carp from overwhelming the Great Lakes and threatening the area’s multi-billion dollar fishing industry. Congress authorized USACE to conduct the study in 2007.

Asian carp are native to China. They were intentionally introduced to filter pond water in Southern fish farms during the 1970s under the mistaken belief that the species could be isolated within the ponds. However, the Asian carp escaped from the ponds during flooding and entered the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The carp have since made their way north toward the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes states are concerned about the threat of Asian carp because the species is fast growing, aggressive, and can adapt easily to new conditions. This species of carp has no natural predators in U.S. waters. Many fear that if they invade the Great Lakes, Asian carp will out-compete native, desirable species such as walleye, perch, and whitefish, and will harm the fishing industry.

The pathway of greatest concern is the Chicago Area Waterways System (CAWS), which is a manmade series of sewage and shipping canals built about a century ago. Currently, the USACE maintains three electric barriers to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan through this system, but many view these barriers as temporary and ineffective.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin of the denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to force the USACE to implement several measures to prevent the Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes. In addition, in 2010, the Court three times rejected Michigan’s appeal to weigh in on the dispute.

The study provides eight options for preventing the transfer of the species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River through aquatic pathways. These include:

  • A “No New Federal Action – Sustained Activities” alternative in which the USACE continues its use of the electric barriers;
  • Nonstructural control technologies, such as education, monitoring, herbicides, and ballast water management;
  • A technology concept involving a specialized lock, lock channel, electric barriers, and ANS treatment plants at two mid-system locations in the CAWS;
  • A technology concept using the same technologies as above, preventing downstream passage from Lake Michigan at five points and preventing upstream passage at a single point at Brandon Road Lock and Dam;
  • Lakefront hydrologic separation with physical barriers separating the basins at four locations along the lakefront of Lake Michigan;
  • Mid-system hydrologic separation with physical barriers separating the basins at two mid-stream locations;
  • A hybrid of technology and physical barriers at four mid-system locations, leaving the Cal-Sag channel open; and
  • A hybrid of technology and physical barriers at four mid-system locations, leaving the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal open.

The report includes a concept-level design plan and cost estimates for each alternative. The most expensive alternative is expected to cost more than $18 billion and take about twenty-five years to implement. The report takes no position regarding which alternative is preferred.

The USACE is accepting public comments on the report through March 3, 2014 and is holding public meetings to discuss the report’s findings and alternatives.

Posted by Theresa Romanosky at 1/31/2013 4:32 PM

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Theresa Romanosky

Theresa Romanosky Senior Associate