Invasive Asian carp are an urgent threat to the health of the Great Lakes, and the people and economies that depend on the lakes and their resources. The Sierra Club and its partners have long advocated for a comprehensive solution to the risk of these fish invading the Great Lakes, along with the other aquatic invasive species that threaten both the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin.
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked by Congress with finding a solution to invasives moving into both basins, their current efforts are heavily focused on Asian carp and their upstream movement. The Chicago Area Waterways system provides an artificial connection between the two basins, created over 100 years ago when the Chicago River was reversed to send wastewater downstream to the Illinois and then Mississippi River. We must address the consequences of this artificial connection to protect our vital freshwater resources.
Earlier this year, the Army Corps completed a draft report detailing their Tentatively Selected Plan to install controls at the Brandon Road Lock in Joliet, Illinois in an effort to prevent Asian carp from moving upstream towards Lake Michigan. The new deadline for submitting comments on this report is December 8, and a fourth public meeting to present the report and gather input will be held on December 5 in New Orleans.
Let’s take a look at what’s included in the Tentatively Selected Plan.
None of these proposed control methods will stop traffic from moving through the lock. Electric barriers are used elsewhere in the river system, and the other technologies can be deployed without preventing current operations. While this combination of control methods cannot provide 100% confidence that Asian carp will not move through the lock, they will reduce the risk of transfer and add an additional stopgap between the current population and Lake Michigan.
In a recent news article, the president of Illinois Marine Towing Inc. claimed: “The new plan for structural barriers would slow shipping from 11,000 barge passages per year at Brandon down to 7,000.” According to the Army Corps, there is no factual basis for this claim in their analysis, and these figures don’t align with actual lockages at Brandon Road. Obviously, the impacts to transportation would be highest during construction of the project, when the shippers are expected to temporarily use another method of transportation during construction (estimated conservatively at 40 days) and then return to their normal operations after construction is complete. But outside this period, the reduction in lockages is not predicted at this mythical scale.
Another “alternative fact” we’ve seen recently came from the State of Illinois’ Lieutenant Governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti who was interviewed for an article in Ottawa’s The Times: “Last summer a live Asian carp was found in the Calumet River, less than 10 miles from Lake Michigan. But Sanguinetti said an autopsy and other testing shows it did not arrive via the Illinois River.” According to Dr. Greg Whitledge at Southern Illinois University’s Department of Zoology, who performed the autopsy on the fish caught over the summer, it is incorrect to conclude that the fish definitely did not arrive at its collection location via the Illinois River. The chemistry of the fish’s earstones (otoliths) are consistent with prior residency in the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers. Whether it arrived in the Calumet River on its own or was moved there (i.e., transported around the barriers and released) cannot be determined.
So, it is possible that this Asian carp did arrive via the Illinois River. And it is possible that other Asian carp will move through the Illinois River system towards Lake Michigan without additional protections to stop their movement. While we greatly appreciate the work that staff of state agencies like the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are doing to remove large amounts of Asian carp from the river system, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to fish these voracious invasive species to extinction.
It’s far past time to get serious about a permanent solution to the problem of Asian carp and all aquatic invasive species threatening our waterways. The State of Illinois should be working proactively with other states and agencies to identify and implement such a solution, rather than dragging their heels and placing declining waterway use by barges over the future of our most important natural resource. Both can be protected if we work together effectively.
In the face of these myths and inaccuracies, we must bring science back into the conversation and work together cooperatively to ensure that an effective, holistic solution is implemented to protect the Great Lakes, a national treasure, economic driver and drinking water source for over 40 million people.
Please submit your comments before Dec. 8th to tell the Army Corps to move forward expeditiously with their plan to install controls against invasive Asian carp. For help submitting a comment, use our Action Alert.