More On Asian Carp

From NRDC In the News. This would be fascinating if it was not so sad.
By Joel Hood

A century ago, reversing the Chicago River and building a complex system of channels to steer sewage away from Lake Michigan was considered one of the great engineering feats in world history.

As concerns mount about Asian carp, momentum is building to re-engineer Chicago’s waterways to allow for the passage of boats and ships, but not harmful invasive species.

Calling it a Burnham Plan for the new millennium, lawmakers and environmental leaders from around the Great Lakes are talking about what the proposed water system might look like, how it could function, and what it would cost.

“We have to double our efforts,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Friday, three days after fishermen discovered a 20-pound Asian carp in Lake Calumet, six miles from Lake Michigan. “This was a warning to us that we need to do more, and we need to do it quickly.”

Durbin and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have teamed up on a bill they plan to introduce this week that would force the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls boat traffic on Chicago’s waterways, to study severing the vital 100-year-old shipping corridor that made northern Illinois an industrial powerhouse.

“What makes Chicago great are those waterways,” said Mark Biel, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois. “It defies logic why anybody would want a physical separation of the waterways. To me, it seems like the ultimate pipe dream.”

Each year, millions of tons of steel, petroleum and other cargo pass through the twisting man-made corridors that feed from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River and on to the Mississippi River and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. Critics say placing physical barriers would restrict cargo vessels, increase costs, slow down delivery and force many Chicago businesses to move elsewhere.

Though the idea of separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River is not new, few inside Illinois took it seriously until the recent firestorm over Asian carp, an invasive species that has left a trail of destruction on its 30-year migration up the Mississippi River and into Illinois.

A native of China with no known predators in the U.S., the Asian carp is large and has a nearly bottomless appetite for plankton and other food crucial to native fish. Certain types of Asian carp, some topping 50 pounds, are also known to leap from the water when agitated, sometimes injuring boaters.

“It’s an extremely serious moment,” said Henry Henderson, Midwest director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Asian carp have been catalytic on focusing people’s attention on the Chicago waterway system as a highway for invasive species.”

With Asian carp threatening an estimated $7 billion commercial and sport fishing industry in the Great Lakes, some have abandoned talk of closing the shipping locks in the Chicago water system that might keep them out, focusing on a more effective big-picture solution.

“This latest finding (in Lake Calumet) has put the exclamation point on it,” said Joel Brammeier of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Every day I see this idea of (ecological separation) being taken more seriously.”

So, how would separation work?

Durbin floated the idea of building a lift for boats and cargo ships that essentially would pick them out of one water channel and transfer them over dry land to another. Similar lifts are used in parts of Europe, Durbin said, although none is of the size and scale that would be needed in Chicago.

“We don’t know if it’s feasible. We don’t know what it will cost,” Durbin said, “but we need to keep all options on the table.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has tried to drum up support to integrate water shipping routes with truck and train transfer stations that have yet to be built along the water system. These stations would eliminate a pathway for most invasive species, but also force ships to unload their cargo and complete the rest of the journey by train or truck.

As if the shipping problem weren’t challenging enough, the re-engineered channels would have to allow for the dispersal of floodwater. Others also want to restore the flow of the Chicago River back into Lake Michigan and invest in sophisticated filtration and water treatment plants to clean up the sewage that would be sent back into the lake.

Technology exists to reverse the river again and disinfect the water to make it suitable for drinking. Missing are the money and the will to do it, Henderson said.

“It’s not like the current situation is so perfect you don’t want to mess with it,” Henderson said. “We can improve it.”

4. CBSNews.com, “Too Late to Stop the Asian Carp Invasion?”

June 30, 2010

By Charles Cooper

Even as lawmakers proposed new legislation designed to stop Asian carp from spreading into the Great Lakers, environmentalists fret that the battle is close to being lost.

“Trying to determine when we should be worried about Asian carp getting into the Great Lakes is really a fools’ errand. We should be concerned today – we should have been concerned 10, 20 years ago,” said Joel Brammeier of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “[The problem] warrants extraordinary measures. We’re past that point right now. The threat is imminent, real and could happen any day.”

Last week, a 3-foot-long, 20-pound Asian carp was caught by a fisherman about six miles downstream of Lake Michigan in Lake Calumet on Chicago’s South Side. That discovery set off alarm bells among local officials. They fear that the fish, a voracious invasive species, were well on their way toward establishing themselves in the Great Lakes where they would pose a threat to the region’s $7 billion fishing industry. Asian carp can grow to 100 pounds and 4 feet in length.

Meanwhile, lawmakers introduced a federal bill on Wednesday in hopes of permanently separating the waterways now linking the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes. Instead of passing through the current network of canals and rivers, boats and barges might one day use massive boat lifts, for example, to bypass the blockade.

The costs and workability of such a plan, however, remain unknown. U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the “Permanent Prevention of Asian Carp Act” to speed research into such a plan. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., introduced it in the House.

But Brammeier and other ecologists remain dissatisfied with the government response to date, adding that the normal legislative grind will be too slow to respond to what they describe as an emergency situation.

For decades, they note, bighead and silver carp have been migrating up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers toward the Great Lakes. Two electric barriers, which emit pulses to scare the carp away or give a jolt if they proceed, have served as a last line of defense. Now, they say, the carp have breached that line of defense, a fact that so far has failed to stir the bureaucracy into action.

“The fish are already there,” Brammeier said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “There really isn’t any discussion at this point as to whether they fish are present,” he said. “We don’t know at this point if they will begin spawning tomorrow or a year from now. But that’s a wild card that we can’t afford to play.”

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