Four years ago politicians and environmentalists loudly complained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was planning to take much too long — up to four years — to come up with a comprehensive plan to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes. Their complaints went nowhere.
Now the long-awaited report is out, and the disappointment is even more palpable. Not only did the Corps burn four crucial years but the document falls far short of what was expected.
Instead of creating and endorsing a single best plan - or even a suggested multi-pronged strategy - for keeping the carp out, the Corps analyzed eight possible approaches that feature different mixtures of technologies and structures to do the job, including locks, sluice gates, physical and electric barriers and water treatment systems. That’s not a plan, it’s a book report.
Worse is that, in the end, deciding a way forward will be left mostly to the politicians.
If it were possible, the Corps should be fired for failing to do the job it was tasked to do; at the very least, whoever was responsible for getting the job done should be sacked. Congress told the Corps to find a solution, and it failed.
This is a major setback in the effort to stem the carp tide that could have real consequences. In recent months researchers have found evidence of the carp in waters just a couple miles from Lake Michigan and discovered that, contrary to previous speculation, carp can reproduce in the lakes. Time is running out.
Big head or silver carp were brought to the United States decades ago to clean fish farms and water systems in the South. They escaped into the Mississippi River and have been eating their way north ever since. The fish have been found in canals and waterways near Chicago.
Scientists warn that if the carp get into the Great Lakes they would consume vast amounts of the algae that form the basis of the food chain and lead to the collapse of populations of lake trout, salmon and other sport species - and of the $7 billion sport fishing industry.
Some environmental groups latched on to a finding in the report that the most effective way to keep out the carp is to construct a physical barrier between Lake Michigan and the canal system around Chicago.
But the fact remains the Army Corps did not endorse a single strategy that advocates could take to Congress to demand funding.
That’s not good enough; we now need another effort to build consensus around a best solution and lobby a reluctant Congress to do what must be done.