Keeping Asian carp from getting established in the waters of the Great Lakes is the goal.
The game plan to achieve that goal – which includes eight possible alteratives ranging in price from zero to more than $18 billion in additional funding – has been drawn up. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put the options on display Thursday in the downtown Central Library.
“The Great Lakes are incredible natural resources,” said Lauren Fleer, interim project manager on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study. “Collectively, they are the largest available fresh water body on earth.”
Buffalo, the final stop in an 11-city tour by the corps to present its $3 million study to the public, was a late addition to the schedule after requests for the meeting were made by a Buffalo resident last month in Erie, Pa., and then by local leaders. About three dozen people attended, and several provided comments, which the corps will use in devising its final report to Congress.
“We wanted to be responsive to people who wanted to participate,” Fleer said.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who also serves as a regional director with the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, was among those calling for “a much greater sense of urgency” given the “tremendous economic and ecological damage” Asian carp already have caused in Southern states and the Mississippi River and the threat they pose to the Great Lakes ecosystem.
“These carp can and will, if allowed through inaction or wrong action, devastate the $7 billion Great Lakes fisheries, a $16 billion boating industry, and nearly two million jobs and billions in potentially lost wages,” Dyster said.
These invasive fish aren’t a threat to eat other fish, just their food. Asian carp gobble up huge amounts of the plankton that other fish rely on to survive and cause a massive collapse in the food chain, experts say. Meanwhile, the silver carp, a species of Asian carp, has grabbed national headlines for launching themselves out above the surface of the water in mass numbers.
The cities initiative Dyster represents calls for “restoring the natural divide” by separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins in Chicago-area waterways. “ ‘Ecological separation’ is the only viable alternative to ensure the Great Lakes health,” according to the initiative.
The issue has remained focused in the Midwest, where the Illinois River provides a conduit between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins. The river connects to Lake Michigan via the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, where an electric barrier, designed to repel the carp from reaching the Great Lakes, is already in place.
Four of the eight proposed alternatives – and, among the most time-intensive and expensive – proposed by the corps include hydrological separation, including a separation of the connection of the basins at the Lake Michigan lakefront, $18.3 billion over 25 years, and a trio of mid-system separation options with varying aims. Those would all also each take about 25 years to complete with price tags of $15.5 billion, $15.1 billion and $8.3 billion, respectively, according to the study.
Other alternatives include employing control technology with a buffer zone, 10 years and $7.8 billion; without a buffer zone, 25 years and $15.5 billion; “nonstructural control technologies” like removing fish using nets, chemicals, controlling use of waterways and through education programs, which has an immediate time frame and a $68 million bill; or taking no new federal action and continuing on the current path with the controls that are already in place.
Still, the million-dollar – or $3 million – question remains: Is all of this work just delaying the inevitable? Are Asian carp destined, at some point, to reach the Great Lakes in sustainable populations? Or can they be stopped?
“It’s really an open-ended question,” said Col. Frederic A. Drummond Jr., commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Chicago District. “Our job is to protect the Great Lakes.”
The corps did not indicate any preferred option among the alternatives it presented.
Officials deferred the ultimate decision to Congress, which will have to decide which project to fund. The final report, with all of the comments, will be presented to Congress at some point after the written public comment period closes at the end of March.
Comments can be made by mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, 231 S. LaSalle St. Suite 1500, Attention: GLMRIS Comments, Dave Wethington, Chicago, IL 60604, or online at: http://glmris.anl.gov/glmris-report/comments.