Blocking Asian carp from Great Lakes expensive

by Jeff Helsdon | December 18, 2018

Stepping up measures in the Chicago Area Waterway System to block Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes could cost more than $775 million US dollars. That is if the latest mechanisms recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are accepted and carried out.

The Chicago Area Waterway System – a series of natural and manmade watercourses that artificially join the Mississippi River system to the Great Lakes – has long been feared as the vector for invasive Asian carp in the Mississippi to reach the Great Lakes. Asian carp have decimated natural fisheries wherever they have become established and the fear is the same would occur if they were to gain a foothold in the Great Lakes.

The Brandon Road Lock, about 60 miles south of Chicago, has been the focus of control measures, with a series of electronic barriers built to stop passage of fish and other aquatic species between the two watersheds. Many have argued this isn’t enough, as research has shown small fish can still pass through the barrier.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with finding a solution to the problem, while minimizing impacts on shipping.

The result is a report and environmental impact study (www.mvr.usace.army.mil/GLMRIS-BR) released on Nov. 21. It includes both non-structural measures, such as education, research, removal of adult Asian carp upstream, and structural measures like acoustic barriers, another electric barrier, a flushing lock, and an air-bubble curtain. Comments on the report will be accepted until Dec. 24, 2018.

If the recommendations are accepted, construction will last until 2027.

“It’s a very reasonable approach to this system,” said Dr. Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. “We all agreed Brandon Road is a logical place for this to happen.”

He questioned if some of the measures would be done before 2027. Matt DeMille, manager of fish and wildlife services for the OFAH, echoed a concern about the timelines.

“The evaluation of options near Brandon Road to keep aquatic invasive species out of the Great Lakes was recommended almost five years ago, so the time for action is now,” he said. “If introduced, the impacts of Asian carps to our recreational and commercial fisheries will be irreversible. There would be a number of significant consequences to Ontario and Canadian economies, as well as jeopardizing the many other benefits the Great Lakes offer to the people of Ontario.”

Gaden said the end goal of restoring physical separation between the Mississippi and Great Lakes is still on the radar. “We want to ensure Brandon Road be considered an interim step,” he said.

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