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Asian carp report: Cost to protect Great Lakes $18 billion

On Monday, the US Army Corps of Engineers submitted to Congress a long-awaited report on options to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Formally titled the “Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study” (GLMRIS), it sought to determine potential solutions to the threat that Asian carp present to the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world. The document suggests eight possible courses of action, the most expensive of which will take 25 years and cost over $18 billion to complete.

Credit: U.S. Army

Credit: U.S. Army

Asian carp are a highly invasive freshwater species first imported to the United States in the late 1960s. The fish were used primarily in aquaculture to control plant growth, but it did not take long for some to escape into the Mississippi River. Asian carp quickly colonized the waterway and began spreading to connected rivers, eventually reaching the Illinois River and Chicago Area Waterway System. From there, it is a simple hop to Lake Michigan.

The efforts of numerous government agencies have prevented the carp from spreading with the use of electric barriers and other methods. However, recent reports of Asian carp DNA in the Great Lakes and concerns over the electric barriers have raised the issue’s priority.

“We need work to begin on projects to permanently prevent Asian carp from destroying the Great Lakes, and we need it to begin now,” said Senator Debbier Stabenow (D-Michigan) in a statement.

The options the Corps offered in the report took varied approaches. The first and cheapest plan is for the federal government to take no new actions, and simply involve continuing methods of reducing carp numbers such as commercial harvests, electrofishing, and barrier maintenance. Other options include separating the hydrologic connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, a lock system that would work in conjunction with current barriers, and creating a buffer zone. Severing the connections between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River would be the most expensive option, costing an estimated $18,389,000,000. The separation would occur at four physical barriers along the Lake Michigan lakefront and would result in the creation of extensive runoff tunnels and other structures. Construction could take as long as 25 years.

The cost of prevention could be high, but if Asian carp enter the Great Lakes, the results could be disastrous.

“The Army Corps must fully develop its proposals and continue working with Congress so that action can be taken to protect the Great Lakes and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on them,” Stabenow stated.

In addition to being detrimental to the growth of certain plants, Asian carp species such as bighead or silver carp also out-compete native fish. Commercial and sport fishing contribute $5 billion to the Great Lakes regional economy at minimum. Recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmentalist groups, and others are banding together to assert that no price is too high to protect the Great Lakes.

“Invasive species do not belong in our lakes; they inflict billions of dollars in damage to the economy and cause permanent damage to the environment,” said Great Lakes Fishery Commission Chairman Dr. Michael Hansen. “The GLMRIS report highlights the fact that the manmade waterway in the Chicago region is a two-way street, allowing the movement of harmful species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. Any action taken in Chicago protects the waters of the entire United States and Canada.”

The Stop Invasive Species Act signed by President Barrack Obama in 2012 expedited the completion of the report, which was originally expected in 2015. The act directed the Corps to bring to Congress a number of fully fleshed-out approaches to stop the spread of Asian carp. However, some are saying that the report submitted on Monday fell short of expectations. Among them is Congressman David Camp (R-Michigan), who helped sponsor the Stop Invasive Species Act.

“While the report released today focused on a number of options to protect the Great Lakes, it failed to fully develop a permanent solution to prevent Asian carp form destroying the Great Lakes,” said Camp. “I am concerned many of the Corps’ proposed options rely on undeveloped technology and do not adequately account for the region’s transportation needs. More work is needed to completely develop a serious plan to protect the Great Lakes and the jobs and economy they support.”

Legislators and environmental advocates say that following the report, concrete actions must be taken to secure the Great Lakes from Asian carp. The Corps will continue to address the issue in cooperation with other agencies and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.

“It is my expectation that the GLMRIS Report will provide valuable information for decision-makers, including insights regarding available options to control ANS of concern as well as the identification of potential impacts that alternatives may have on existing uses and users of the waterways,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy.

You can read the full 232-page GLMRIS report here.


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