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USACE Issues Long Awaited Great Lakes/Asian Carp Report

Grayson_Lynn_COLORBy:  E. Lynn Grayson


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week submitted to Congress the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) report detailing a range of options and technologies to prevent the transfer of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins through aquatic pathways. At issue is blocking the infamous Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and adversely impacting the sensitive ecosystems present there.

The report contains eight alternatives, each with concept-level design and cost information, and evaluates the potential of these alternatives to control the transfer of a variety of ANS. The options concentrate on the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and include a wide spectrum of alternatives ranging from the continuation of current activities to the complete separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The GLMRIS Report also includes an analysis of potential impacts to uses and users of the CAWS, and corresponding mitigation requirements for adverse impacts to functions such as flood-risk management, natural resources, water quality, and navigation.

The alternatives presented in the report include:

  1. Continuing current efforts (i.e., the electric barriers) with "No New Federal Action – Sustained Activities."
  2. Nonstructural control technologies (i.e., education, monitoring, herbicides, ballast water management).
  3. A technology concept involving a specialized lock, lock channel, electric barriers and ANS treatment plants at two mid-system locations in the CAWS.
  4. A technology concept (CAWS buffer zone) using the same technologies as number 3, preventing downstream passage from Lake Michigan at five points and preventing upstream passage at a single point at Brandon Road Lock and Dam.
  5. Lakefront hydrologic separation with physical barriers separating the basins at four locations along the lakefront of Lake Michigan.
  6. Mid-system hydrologic separation with physical barriers separating the basins at two mid-system locations.
  7. A hybrid of technology and physical barriers at four mid-system locations, leaving the Cal-Sag channel open.
  8. A hybrid of technology and physical barriers at four mid-system locations, leaving the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal open.

Separating the Great Lakes and the Chicago River (again) could cost more than $18 billion and take up to 25 years making this option the most expensive alternative. Despite the significant costs and extended time lines detailed in the report, some believe these efforts may be too late. Asian carp DNA has been found near Lake Michigan in the past and more carp DNA was discovered last year in Sturgeon Bay in Northern Michigan – 250 miles from areas of the Illinois River where Asian carp are known to spawn. Asian carp were imported to the U.S. in the 1970s to help fish farmers clean algae from their ponds. The fish escaped during floods and slowly have been eating their way up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

Interested parties cannot agree on exactly the next best step to take to protect the Great Lakes from an Asian carp invasion. Everyone agrees, however, that action must be taken soon and any meaningful effort will be an expensive undertaking.

GLMRIS plans to host a series of public meetings to discuss the contents of the report and allow for public comment. These meetings have been scheduled for the following dates and locations:

  • Chicago, IL – Thursday, January 9, 2014
  • Milwaukee, WI – Monday, January 13, 2014
  • Cleveland, OH – Thursday, January 16, 2014
  • Ann Arbor, MI – Tuesday, January 21, 2014
  • Traverse City, MI – Thursday, January 23, 2014
  • Twin Cities, MN – Monday, January 27, 2014
  • St. Louis, MO – Thursday, January 30, 2014

To view the report, summary, details on the public meetings, register to speak or to make an online comment, go to Comments will be accepted until 30 days following the last public meeting, or March 3, 2014.