Keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes may take 25 years and the expenditure of $18.4 billion, according to a new report released on Monday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The long-awaited report, the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS), looks at eight options but does not recommend one strategy to keep invasive species like Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
The report identifies eight potential alternatives for controlling the spread of Asian carp, ranging from current efforts to a complete separation of the basins in the Chicago area, along with outlining problems that each of those alternatives could cause for waterway users, water quality and flood control.
Much of that cost, said Dave Wethington, project manager for the Corps, would be tied up in flood management basins, reservoirs and miles of runoff tunnels that would have to be built to reduce increased risk of flooding in the Chicago area.
The report is a “complex study” that looked at more than just Asian carp and analyzed 90 different remedies, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham in a teleconference.
Physically separating the two basins where they connect via waterways in the Chicago area is among options outlined by the Corps.
Some in Congress favor a complete separation. Ohio and other Great Lakes states have pushed for such a separation, along with eco-groups. But Chicago business groups say it would hurt the local economy.
The Chicago Area Waterway System consists of 128 miles of rivers and canals with five aquatic pathways from the Mississippi Basin to Lake Michigan.
One option outlined by the Corps is for new canal locks near Chicago that pump treated water and filters that water to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan, along with new electric barriers. That might include treating water with ultraviolet light.
The biggest threat is bighead and silver carp that were imported from Asia and have infested the Mississippi and its tributaries, including the Ohio River, since they escaped from Southern fish hatcheries in the mid-1990s. The fish are in the Chicago area. They pose a major threat to the $7 billion Great Lakes fishery.
Right now, electronic barriers are used to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes, but some worry that the barriers are not secure enough.
The 232-page document was also submitted to Congress on Monday, seven years after it was requested.
The release of the document kicks off a public comment period that runs through March 3.
A public hearing on the report will be held Jan. 16 in Cleveland by the Corps of Engineers. It will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Ave. NE. It is one of seven hearings around the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
The report is available at http://glmris.anl.gov.
Scientists also have identified about three dozen other aquatic invaders that could move from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi or from the Mississippi to the Great Lakes, the Corps said.
One trade group weighed in, strongly opposing the Corps’ suggestion to separate the Chicago area waterways from Lake Michigan.
“We believe it is clear from the GLMRIS report that one of the alternatives, physical separation, is neither economically feasible nor will it be effective at eliminating all identified pathways for the spread of invasive species, including Asian carp,” said Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators representing the tugboat, towboat and barge industry.
“Severing a critical part of the nation’s water transportation network is too high a price to pay for a solution that is not guaranteed to stop the spread of invasive species,” he said.
Environmentalists in Ohio and around the Great Lakes want to see the Great Lakes physically separated from the Mississippi Basin at Chicago, said Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council.
“We’re not backing down from that position,” she said. “We want physical barriers and physical separation. …Anything less than full separation will fail and we can’t afford that.”
Ohio is already working to separate the Ohio River Basin and Lake Erie to keep the Asian carp from reaching Lake Erie via that route, she said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.