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New Asian carp study could delay action until it’s too late

Published: Mon, December 20, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

On its face, President Barack Obama’s 2011 battle plan to keep the Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes looks deep and aggressive, but it should actually alarm anyone worried about the survival of the lakes as we know them.

The $47 million plan is chock-full of studies and possibilities, such as electric fish barriers and enhanced DNA testing and even the creation of a Web site, Asiancarp.org to provide up-to-date information about what’s being done. It identified 19 potential pathways in various Great Lakes states that have the potential for the transfer of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

But what it decidedly does not include is the most dramatic action that could be taken to close off the largest and most dangerous access point for the voracious carp, which have made their way up the Mississippi after escaping from southern fish farms. That action would be closing the canals and locks that connect Lake Michigan at Chicago with the Mississippi River.

Breaking that link has been endorsed by every Great Lake state except Illinois and by numerous environmental groups, but Chicago-area business and political interests have fought it aggressively.

Sleight of hand

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley seems to be taking a new tack — diverting attention from the danger that the Asian carp pose by way of the Chicago canal to what he says is the greater danger and greater damage done by invasive species that make their way into the Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

While that argument might win Daley points in a high school debate, in the real world it counts for little. Let’s acknowledge that zebra mussels and quagga mussels and dozens of other newcomers brought to the lakes in the bilge tanks of ocean-going vessels have done enormous damage. In what way does that justifying allowing the Asian carp to swim in and possibly finish the assault on the lakes’ ecology that was begun by the mussels?

As Jim Johnson, a biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “You cannot treat invasive species like you do other water pollution, where you lower it to an acceptable level and it will dilute away.”

Once established, invaders such as the 100-pound Asian carp do not just go away.

And that’s where the biggest danger of Obama’s new plan comes in. The $25 million study on how to permanently block the Asian carp from migrating to the Great Lakes is not expected until at least 2015. By then, it may be too late. While parochial interests in Chicago are being protected, the Asian carp problem could be studied to death — the death of the Great Lakes, that is.


1NetBuddy(7 comments)posted 5 years, 7 months ago

The CarpAgeddon crowd needs to understand the purpose of the $25 million study is to find the best way to stop the Carp migration - not the best way to sever a canal. After seeing Zebra Mussels cross the Rocky Mountains and Asian carp finding their way into hydrologically separated lakes and past several sealed locks on the Hennepin Canal, we know that closing the locks or hydrological separation will be no more effective than the electric barriers currently in place.

Finding the best way must weigh the costs against the threat. The Army Corps must define the initial infrastructure costs of severing the canals which would include the costs of barriers, reengineering the Chicago sewer and drainage systems, and constructing new infrastructures to move vast amounts of commodities and, in some cases, the factories that use them.

In addition to those staggering initial costs, the added perpetual costs of moving those commodities and finished goods to hundreds of Ohio and Midwest industries by a less efficient supply chain must be factored into the analysis. Additional costs of accommodating the passage of some 8,000 pleasure boats that rely on the Chicago Waterways for passage between Lake Michigan, the Chicago Waterways, and the Illinois River must also be considered.

On the other side of the scale there is a large body of evidence, including scientific studies and the opinions of respected marine biologists from Ohio and Michigan universities, which show the Asian Carp pose no significant threat to the Great Lakes.

The truth is we can study two years or five years and in the end the conclusion will be what we already know now - the costs of severing the canals will far outweigh the threat and the best way to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes will be to continue to develop passive barriers and other biological solutions. If we don't pursue and develop that technology in Chicago, we may end up with no alternative to sealing off the Maumee River in Toledo once the carp in the Wabash River find their way past that fence in Indiana.

The carp grandstanding politicians and the CarpAggedon crowd know this as well. That’s why they don’t want to bother with these studies. It's not the time it takes that scares them, it's the facts that the studies will bear.

Closing Chicago's locks or severing the canals will be just as much a non starter when the study is finished as it is today or, as it was two weeks ago in federal court. So let's save 5 years and $25 million and start putting those resources into more practical and sensible solutions today.

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