Time is not on our side.
It’s on the side of Asian carp, a range of species that have been swimming steadily toward Lake Michigan since they were introduced near the mouth of the Mississippi River half a century ago.
Bighead carp, black carp, grass carp and silver carp systematically have migrated 061919* throughout the Mississippi River basin, wreaking havoc on the aquatic environment. Bighead carp and silver carp eat plankton, and conceivably could out-compete existing fish species in the Great Lakes. Both are present in the Illinois River near Chicago.
Efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes ecosystem have been discussed for years. Concepts range from small to large, the largest being the complete closure of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a century-old man-made connection between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.
Barge, towboat and tugboat operators loudly oppose closing the canal, which supports thousands of jobs and annually injects $1.5 billion into Chicago’s economy. A group representing those marine businesses says the Asian carp problem is exaggerated.
Evidence suggests otherwise.
The Government Accountability Office in 2015 called aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp a “never-ending oil spill.”
Tammy Newcomb, senior water policy adviser for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and associate professor at Michigan State University’s department of fisheries and wildlife, a few weeks ago told Crain’s Detroit Business: “I don’t see we’re at a point of no return. I don’t see how we can afford to look at it this way. We can’t afford to give up on this. These fish are too dangerous.”
So it is encouraging that a July 16-17 meeting in Chicago will gather officials from eight states and two Canadian provinces to talk about a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
While government officials prepare for the meeting, Asian carp are swimming and spawning just a few miles from Lake Michigan, held back — we think — by a system of locks and an electrical barrier.
The Chicago gathering will address the Corps’ plan to upgrade the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, with underwater loudspeakers, electric cables and air bubble curtains, multiple measures intended to turn back Asian carp intent on moving into new territory.
Installation of the measures will be costly, estimated at around $800 million. The Corps requires non-federal partners to pay 35 percent of most projects’ construction costs. Illinois has agreed to be a non-federal sponsor, at least during the $29 million pre-construction phase. Michigan offered to contribute $8 million to that phase.
The July event in Chicago is intended to consolidate support for the Corps plan.
We hope everyone involved can come to an agreement and move forward more quickly than the fish can find a way past the existing barriers.
Time is not on our side.