The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants the public to believe that an electric fish barrier in the Chicago Waterway System, about 30 miles south of Chicago, is holding back a biological plague of Asian carp.
The facts tell a different story.
A Corps-commissioned study concluded in 2009 that Asian carp smaller than 5.4 inches long could breach the electric barrier.
The Corps was informed again in July 2010 that smaller Asian carp could penetrate the barrier, but the agency decided not to crank up the voltage to repel the smaller fish. The Corps said there was no need to increase the voltage because no small Asian carp had been found within 25 miles of the barrier.
Four months later, in mid- July, the Corps announced that more Asian carp DNA was found in waters open to Lake Michigan. In lay terms, that means Asian carp were recently swimming in those waters.
Remarkably, the Corps continues to insist that the electric barrier is effective as the last line of defense against Asian carp storming Lake Michigan and spreading to the other Great Lakes.
This, despite a recent study by four preeminent scientists who concluded that: The electric barrier won’t hold back Asian carp; an Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes is imminent; the fish could thrive in the lakes and wreak havoc on fisheries; and a systematic campaign of disinformation by special interests have paralyzed efforts to find a permanent solution.
Those scientists, like many conservation groups in the region, said the only sure way to stop the movement of Asian carp and dozens of other invasive species between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes systems is to physically separate the two basins.
Though naysayers claim such a solution is impractical, studies have shown that separating the basins is technologically feasible and that such action would benefit the Great Lakes and Mississippi River ecosystems and the massive economies they support.
Unfortunately, a small group of special interests in the Chicago area have worked against efforts to move toward separating the basins.
On the other side of the argument are scientists, scholars and thousands of citizens around the Great Lakes who have called for separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin as soon as possible.
Congress in 2007 directed the Corps of Engineers to figure out how to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes. Four years later, the Corps continues to study the problem without any plan for halting the threat.
The Corps won’t complete its study of how best to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes until 2015, at the earliest. A solution will take many more years.
We can’t afford to wait nearly that long.
Asian carp represent an ecological threat of the highest order, a biological plague bearing down on the largest and likely the most valuable freshwater ecosystem on the planet.
Yet the Corps of Engineers continues to dither.
The Corps must stand up to special interests and do what’s best for the Great Lakes and the 40 million people who rely on the lakes for work, recreation and sustenance.
It’s time for the Corps to focus its considerable resources and authority on breaking the artificial ties that bind the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River basin.