Archive for the ‘Great Lakes’ Category

The Door Opens Both Ways

August 8, 2011

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

As if Asian carp weren’t enough of a threat, the Detroit Free Press on Sunday  reported on a new potential invader that might attack the Great Lakes through the Chicago canal system: the snakehead fish, also known as the “Frankenfish.”

If you thought Asian carp were bad, check out this monster:

  • The snakehead uses its large jaw and big teeth to eat other fish – not just algae and microorganisms like the filter-feeding Asian carp.
  • Like the invasive carp, the snakehead breeds like a mosquito and eats like a hog. It lays thousands of eggs in multiple breeding seasons and guards its nests to protect its young. And although not quite as large as the Asian carp (adults are 3 feet in length), the snakehead also is a voracious eater.
  • The snakehead’s big claim to fame, however, is that IT CAN MOVE OVER LAND, from stream to stream! Like a snake, it wiggles along in ditches and can survive several days outside the water. It breathes air! Which means that once it establishes a breeding population, it’s very hard to contain.

The snakehead hasn’t been found in the Mississippi River…yet. But because it has established breeding populations at least one stream tributary to the Mississippi, fish biologists think it will soon reach the Big Muddy. Once there, of course, it’s only  a matter of time until they reach the Chicago canals and then Lake Michigan – unless a permanent barrier is erected first.

So the Chicago canals once again may be the conduit through which Great Lakes destruction can pass. But here’s the irony: the Chicago canal system is a door that swings both ways. The canals may soon bring species that wreak havoc on the Great Lakes; but the canals already have brought incalculable damage to the Mississippi River basin. Those canals have transmitted our very own scourge, zebra mussels, to most of the rest of the country.

You can watch that door swing right here. NWF’s Trilby Becker has worked with USGS to produce two motion maps. In one you can see the spread of Asian carp up the Mississippi , through the Chicago canals, right to the edge of the Great Lakes.  In the other, you’ll see zebra mussels start in the Great Lakes and move through the Chicago canals, down the Mississippi, to most of the rest of the country. And you can read Trilby’s blog about it.

These maps show visually what scientists found in a recent study, Aquatic Invasive Species Risk Assessment for the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (Jerde, Barnes, McNulty, Mahon, Chadderton, and Lodge, 2010): that the Chicago canals pose an equally great risk to the Mississippi River and its tributaries (like the Missouri and Ohio Rivers) as they do to the Great Lakes. The study concluded that 17 species in the Mississippi River pose a high risk to the Great Lakes, and 10 species in the Great Lakes pose an equally high risk to the Mississippi. And that doesn’t count the zebra mussels that have already infested the Mississippi and its tributaries.

So putting an effective, permanent barrier to stop invasives from moving through the Chicago canals is imperative for the Great Lakes. It’s not just Asian carp we need to worry about; there are other monsters like the snakehead out there waiting to devastate our lakes. Electric fences and half measure won’t cut it.

But we also know that this isn’t just a Great Lakes problem. What starts in the Great Lakes won’t stay there, at least without that permanent barrier. As the motion maps make all too clear, the rest of the country needs protection from the Great Lakes, too.

Fixing the Chicago canals is a national problem, and we need a national solution, fast.

What happens in Ohio stays in Ohio…

June 30, 2011

What happens in Ohio stays in Ohio… ….because no other Great Lakes state is foolish enough to do what the Ohio legislature just did.

This week the Ohio Legislature passed a bill that makes a mockery of the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact— the 2008 law passed by Congress and every state (including Ohio) to protect the Great Lakes from diversions and unwise water use. The Compact prohibits diversions of Great Lakes water out of the region and requires the Great Lakes states to enact laws that protect the lakes and their tributaries from excessive water withdrawals and to implement water conservation measures. Of the eight Great Lakes states, only Ohio, and New York have yet to enact the laws needed to implement the Compact, and New York just passed its bill over a week ago.

But Ohio….. Ohio seems intent on abusing Lake Erie and the watersheds that support it in a misguided (and doomed) effort to attract water-wasting businesses.

The Ohio legislation essentially opens the door to massive withdrawals from Lake Erie, rivers in the Lake Erie basin, and underlying groundwater without standards, permitting, or agency review.

Specifically, the legislation exempts all withdrawals from Lake Erie under 5 million gallons per day, and all withdrawals from streams and groundwater under 2 million gallons per day (except for “high quality” streams, where the exemption is up to 300,000 gallons per day) . Those exemptions reportedly prompted the spokesman for the business-backed Coalition for Sustainable Water Management to say that no business has ever faced regulation in Ohio for consuming more than 2 million gallons a day – so no business in Ohio will ever need a permit to use water unless they withdraw from high-quality streams.

No other state has declared open season on Great Lakes water like Ohio is poised to do. Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania all regulate withdrawals over 100,000 gallons per day. Minnesota’s threshold is 10,000 gallons per day.

But the Ohio lawmakers seem to believe that this law will give them a competitive advantage, that businesses will rush to Ohio to escape the water regulations of other states.

Which businesses? Not the businesses who need clean and plentiful water over the long term. Those businesses will be concerned about the lack of foresight and planning from Ohio’s political leaders on water use.

And they’ll be particularly concerned about Ohio’s rush to drill thousands of natural gas wells without adequate safeguards, because those wells will further dry up Ohio’s water supplies.

Not the businesses in the knowledge economy who are mobile and decide where to locate based on quality of life. Those businesses will move to another Great Lakes state, where the Great Lakes are protected, where the state has a commitment to protecting inland lakes and streams from depletion and pollution.

So which businesses are Ohio lawmakers trying to attract? The water-wasters: the companies who are looking for short-term profits over long-term sustainability; the businesses who will use up Ohio’s precious resources and leave.

That’s quite a business strategy to inflict on the citizens and responsible businesses of Ohio. Will it work? Let’s see what the Brookings Institution has to say:

“The Midwestern states that surround the Great Lakes are in a time of economic transition – from an agricultural and industrial era that relied on the Great Lakes and its waterways for transportation and industrial production, to a global knowledge economi in which the lakes are both an increasing valuable resource, and a valuable amenity. Outside the region, the United States and other nations around the world are increasingly looking for ways to move beyond economic growth patterns that diminish natural resources to those that support long-term sustainable development. The Great Lakes and their abundant fresh water offer a doorway to this new economy.”

Ohio is shutting that door. The irony here is that Ohio has actually put itself in a worse competitive position for attracting and retaining business. That’s why former Ohio Governor Bob Taft and former Ohio Governor and Senator George Voinovich, both Republicans, have called on their Republican colleagues in the state legislature to redo the bill.

And so have the leading newspapers in the state, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dayton Daily News, the Morning Journal and the Akron Beacon Journal.

So now this bill that’s bad for the Great Lakes, bad for Ohio’s rivers and streams, and bad for Ohio business goes to Governor Kasich to his signature or veto.

Governor, this is a no-brainer. Send this bill back to the legislature with instructions that it comes up with a win-win, not a lose-lose.

Asian Carp Update, Part I: New eDNA Evidence

May 31, 2011

After a long blogging hiatus, I’m jumping back in after being inspired by yesterday’s ESPN episode on Asian carp; what a great piece!

The ESPN Outside the Lines piece went right to where the worst impacts of the carp would be: Lake Erie.  It included interviews of a bunch of charter boat captains, including our longtime partner Rick Unger. The show appears to be a rebroadcast from November of last year.

Except for the ESPN piece, the news coverage on Asian carp has been quiet. That quiet is misleading, because there’s an awful lot happening, too much to put into a single post:

  • the most recent sampling data
  • short-term actions,
  • long-term actions,
  • threats from outside the Chicago canal system, and more.

Today I’ll start with an update on Asian carp sampling data, and cover the other topics in the weeks to come.

If you’ve been following the media (or lack of it), you’d think that all is well: that is, that there is no new evidence of Asian carp above the electric fence. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

The most recent eDNA evidence of Asian carp in the Chicago canal system from the last three months of 2010 documents the presence of Asian carp beyond the barrier on multiple occasions: 7 silver carps hits and 2 bighead carp positives. In addition, 6 samples were positive for silver and bighead carp in the DesPlaines River north and east of the electric fence in the canal. If the Des Plaines floods into the Chicago canals (and with the recent construction of berms and fences between the two waterbodies, it shouldn’t), the flooding would occur above the electric fence. The Corps’ eDNA surveillance map  identifies where the samples were taken.

Click for a full size pdf of the sampling map:

eDNA Results Map

So why isn’t the evidence of Asian carp beyond the barrier all over the news?  We’re looking at 15 Asian carp hits above the electric fence in 3 months. The Asian carp eDNA is a clear indication that the electric fence is not 100 percent effective and that Asian carp are swimming freely in the Chicago canals with an open path the Lake Michigan just a few miles away.

A year ago, far less evidence of Asian carp triggered a crisis and made headlines all around the region, but not this time.

I can think of three reasons the current evidence of Asian carp beyond the electric fence is not getting the press it deserves, none of which makes these findings any less important:

  1. The Asian carp issue is suffering from media fatigue; the media are tired of covering it. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I think the media will cover any part of this issue that seems like a new development (and even some that don’t). Witness the ESPN story yesterday. I think it’s less media fatigue, and more…
  2. The Corps’ release of the samples is so slow that by the time the data are public, they’re no longer news. Even these most recent data cover the period from October-December, 2010. Why can’t the Corps get this information online faster? The agency’s delays make this crisis seem less urgent, when it most certainly is not.
  3. The Chicago shipping industry and many of the government agencies have really downplayed the eDNA results. When the agencies release the most recent monitoring data on Asian carp, they don’t start with the eDNA tests that indicate the presence of the carp. Instead they start with other sampling techniques – netting, commercial fishing, electrofishing – that scientists uniformly agree would not be expected to find Asian carp in the Chicago canal system.  So it’s no surprise that they don’t find the carp through those methods.

    Rarely do the agency reports acknowledge eDNA samples that show the presence of Asian carp, and if they do, it’s usually in a way that minimizes the importance of those samples (so from October to December, they point out that there were 1330 samples processed, and 15 samples, or 1 percent, showed evidence of Asian carp).

    I agree it makes sense to put the positive DNA hits in a larger context to demonstrate that Asian carp do not yet appear to be present in breeding populations in the Chicago Area Waterway System.

    But, you can only put the DNA evidence in context if you first reveal and discuss the fact that the DNA evidence again and again shows that there are Asian carp past the electric fence. And when you put it in that context, the problem is as urgent as ever. The lack of breeding population only means that we actually have time to fix the problem before it’s too late. We still have hope.

That’s it for this week. Next time I’ll talk about short-term actions to prevent Asian carp in the Great Lakes and what we’re seeing there.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled ….. Invasive Species?

April 11, 2011

Yesterday, the Sunday New York Times printed my letter responding to a guest editorial that actually praised invasions by non-native species. My letter in the times was a shorter version of a longer piece that’s below (thanks to GLU’s Jen Nalbone for some great edits!). Also, check out the other letters that ran in response to the guest editorial.

Here’s my original piece:

For a minute, I thought Hugh Raffles’ New York Times op ed, “Mother Nature’s Melting Pot” was a bit of a satire – perhaps a modern adaptation of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” After all, Raffles compares the anti-immigration fervor with the attempts to stop invasive, “alien” species from colonizing native habitats in the U.S. But as I read, I got the sinking feeling that Rafferty is serious. He argues, human diversity is good; the iconic “melting pot” has made the United States what it is today. He seems to ignore that he’s talking about diversity among a single species, humans. Would he be as positive about welcoming species into the U.S. that eat humans? Or that kill us through disease? Because that’s what harmful invasive species often do to native species. Shall we open our arms, say, to SARS or the Asian flu? After all, those organisms are just yearning to be free.

What Raffles seems to forget is that our society does welcome many invasive species, like ornamental plants and shrubs, soybeans, and housecats. What we try to stop (or once they are here, control or eradicate) are the few non-native species that turn out to be invasive, or harmful to humans and the habitats we rely on.  Just as we use vaccines, screening and antibiotics to stop diseases that hurt us, so do we use similar techniques to stop the bad invasive species.

And there are bad ones – species that can hurt humans, and species that actually reduce the biological diversity in an ecosystem. Living in the Great Lakes, we see evidence of that on a daily basis. One of them is zebra mussels, which coat the bottom of the Great Lakes and many beaches with six-inch thick mats of tiny, sharp shells. Raffles says that zebra mussels have had a significant positive effect on the Great Lakes because they make filter the water, making it clearer and increasing populations of fish and plants. Problem is, that’s just flat out wrong. Due to zebra mussels and their incredible ability to filter out microscopic organisms, there’s no food left in the water column of vast sections of the Great Lakes and fish populations have crashed. A new article in Environmental Science  and Technology this month documents that fish biomass in two Great Lakes has declined by 95% in the past 15 years, primarily due to zebra mussels and their cousins, the invasive quagga mussels. And according to scientists, because zebra and quagga mussels spit out toxic algae as they consume virtually all the rest, they are the primary culprits in causing harmful algae blooms in the Great Lakes – thick pea-green soup that can poison drinking water and lead to botulism outbreaks.

And that’s only one harmful invasive species. How about viral hemmorhagic septicemia (VHS), the Ebola of fish that causes them to bleed out and die? Shall we roll out the welcome mat for that one?

Biology doesn’t say one species is bad and another is good (although I would argue that an invasive species that wipes out all or many of the other species in an ecosystem is biologically bad). But people value some things above others… including our own survival and prosperity. Call me people-ist, but I prefer native species that don’t hurt me or kill me. So no more harmful invasive species, please!

Great Lakes Stories That Deserve More Attention

March 23, 2011

I wanted to note two blog posts on important Great Lakes issues that aren’t getting nearly enough play.

The first is a post on the St. Lawrence Seaway by Jennifer Caddick, the talented director of Save the River in New York. On the day of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, she points out the many things the Seaway has brought us that aren’t cause for celebration: sea lamprey that swam through the canals, zebra and quagga mussels that were discharged in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels, air pollution from ships idling in ports, and the destruction of native wetlands by an industry that has demanded artificially uniform water levels.

The Seaway and the shipping industry has fought tooth and nail against changing any of these destructive practices. As Jennifer says,

“The Seaway agencies and shipping industry have systematically put themselves on the wrong side of environmental policy debates. For nearly 20 years, since the introduction of the zebra mussel, they resisted any rules to clean up ship ballast tanks to prevent further invasive species introductions…..Shippers and the Seaway are on record opposing the environmentally beneficial water levels plan (Plan B+) that our communities have been supporting for years. They’ve fought for (and unfortunately won) exemptions from federal rules to clean up ship smokestack emissions, making some of the Great Lakes ships among the dirtiest air polluters in the industry. And, the Seaway has unilaterally extended the shipping season on the St. Lawrence River, with no input from River communities, state or federal environmental and safety agencies, or elected officials. “

To add insult to injury, the Seaway now claims to be the most “environmentally responsible marine transportation systems in the world.” I wonder what they think an environmentally destructive system would look like?

The second post on Chicago’s sewage problems, from Jeff Alexander, sheds some light on an incredibly important funding priority for the Great Lakes that often gets lost in the budget debates. Jeff reports on a  Chicago Tribune story that reveals that Chicago has dumped over 19 billion gallons of raw sewage mixed with stormwater into the Great Lakes since 2007…despite a $3 billion investment in a “Deep Tunnel” project that was supposed to fix the problem.  And Chicago is just one of many older cities (Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and others) that discharge untreated sewage to the lakes when it rains.

So what is Congress’s solution to the sewage problem?

Spend less  money in fixing the sewers. That’s right, the budget bill passed by the House cut funding to sewer repair and modernization by two-thirds – a whopping 67%. That cut will not only add billions of gallons of raw sewage to the lakes; it will also cost the region jobs and economic growth…22,000 jobs, according to a Brookings Institution report (pdf).

As a country, we’re finding out that there aren’t many budget cuts that are easy to make. But some aren’t just hard, they’re bad–and will cost us much more money in near future. This is one of those bad cuts.

Polluting the lakes AND costing 22,000 jobs…. that’s a cut that will keep on hurting for many years.

March 1 Dispatch from Washington

March 2, 2011

Like everybody else, I thought that any big news coming out of Washington’s Great Lakes Days this week would be about the Great Lakes restoration budget. And certainly that’s what most of the briefings and conversations are about.

But lost in the budget news are important new developments about (you guessed it) Asian carp. From a brief, low-key presentation to the Great Lakes Commission, we learned that Asian carp are much more likely to reproduce and have much more food to eat in the Great Lakes than scientists previously thought.

That means that if the invasive carp make it to the Great Lakes, they’re likely to spread fast and far and do even more damage than we’d feared.

Here’s what we heard. Dr. Leon Carl, director of the scientists at the Great Lakes/Midwest division of the USGS (that’s the US Geological Service, the science agency charged with doing much of the fisheries research on Asian carp), on Monday told the Commission that scientists had discovered two new problems:

  1. Asian carp larvae learn to swim vertically at younger ages than scientists had previously assumed. What that means is that the larvae don’t need to be suspended as long in turbulent water to survive and thrive…. which means that shorter river segments or even the coastal areas of the Great Lakes themselves can support Asian carp reproduction. That’s very disturbing news. Until now, scientists thought that Asian carp could only breed in a handful of long tributaries to the lakes, which would limit their ability to spread if they did get into the lakes. Now their capacity to breed and spread looks much greater.
  2. Asian carp eat Cladophora, a common algae that grows along much of the Great Lakes shoreline. That’s another stunner. Scientists had believed that there wasn’t enough food in much of the Great Lakes to support the voracious carp. Now it turns out that there’s plenty of food along much of the coastline to support the spread of the invasive fish.

After the briefing, Leon told me that these new findings make him deeply concerned. He’s right.

The likely damage from an Asian carp invasion has just skyrocketed, as has the urgency for taking action. So far, we’re lucky that the monster carp haven’t established breeding populations in the canals or Lake Michigan. But we can’t count on being lucky for much longer.

We need the Corps to construct a permanent barrier, and fast.

The Budget and the Great Lakes

February 16, 2011

Before we get into the budget (and I have to warn you, this post is not for the mathematically faint of heart), I wanted to highlight several non-budget Great Lakes developments that NWF staff just published posts about:

Now for the budget.

On the surface the numbers are pretty straightforward: for this year (FY 11), the House Committee on Appropriations has proposed $225 million for Great Lakes restoration funding, as compared to $300 million in the President’s budget. And for next year (FY 12), the President has proposed $350 million for Great Lakes restoration funding and the House has yet to come out with its budget. But what does that mean?

Let’s look at it through a few different lenses:

Financial: As the Healing Our Waters Coalition points out in this week’s news release, the baseline for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding is $475 million a year – the amount the Great Lakes received in FY 10 and the amount that the President pledged in annual funding as he launched the GLRI that year. Neither the President nor the House committee has hit that target, and the House is much farther away than the President.

But the math gets worse when you look at the other programs that matter for Great Lakes restoration, particularly funding for upgrading the region’s crumbling sewer and water infrastructure.  There, the House committee is proposing to reduce FY 11 funding (from FY 10 levels) for upgrading sewer systems by 67 percent – a reduction of roughly $494 million to the Great Lakes states. The President’s budget for FY 12 is a bit better, but still a significant drop: a 26% reduction from current levels, or approximately a $192 million cut for the Great Lakes states.

Political: The news here is a bit better. The Great Lakes Regional Initiative clearly has some powerful champions on both sides of the aisle and in the White House.  The House Appropriations Committee (controlled by the Republican caucus) could have slashed Great Lakes funding even more, but thanks to the popularity of Great Lakes restoration with both Republicans and Democrats and requests for continued funding by powerful members of both parties in the Great Lakes delegation, the committee held the line at $225 million for FY 11. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Great Lakes states have enormous electoral importance in the upcoming 2012 elections, Likewise, in this atmosphere of draconian budget cuts, the President could have cut Great Lakes funding in his FY 12 budget below $300 million, but he chose to come in at $350 million. While low, that’s still a substantial commitment to the Great Lakes.

What this means is that support for Great Lakes restoration remains strong for both parties – and we may have a chance to increase the FY 11 and FY 12 numbers in the Senate (and even the House) before this is all over. We’ll need those increases not just for GLRI funding, but also for modernizing old sewer systems.

Economic: Undoubtedly, the budget cuts are going to cost the Great Lakes region jobs – tens of thousands of jobs. A Brookings Institution study (pdf) documented that for every dollar spent on Great Lakes restoration, the region receives between two and four dollars of economic value. So reducing Great Lakes restoration funding by $250 million results in a loss of economic value of between $500 million and $1 billion for the region. In terms of jobs, just considering the cuts the House proposes in funding for sewer repairs means loss of roughly 22,000 jobs for Great Lakes states (pdf).

Ecological: For the Great Lakes themselves, these budgets present some real challenges. There’s an enormous backlog of work to restore the Great Lakes – to clean up toxic hotspots, restore wetlands, stop invasive species, and repair crumbling sewers and drinking water systems. In FY 10 alone, approximately 1100 projects (out of 1,400) went unfunded. And in FY 11, NO projects have been funded because the budget is stalled, and under any scenario, far fewer projects will be funded this year…. Meaning that Great Lakes cleanup will be delayed, take longer, and ultimately cost more.

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news in the budget that has nothing to do with funding. The House proposal contains a number of riders to constrain EPA’s ability to do its job. One of them would stop EPA from being able to protect the nation’s wetlands. That will be particularly harmful for the Great Lakes. Wetlands not only serve as critical habitat for fish and wildlife; they also are incredibly effective filters for pollution – the kidneys of the Great Lakes.

Our region has lost over 50 percent of its wetlands already and under the GLRI will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to restore them. But we’re losing ground if existing wetlands are being destroyed faster than we can construct new ones. And that’s what will happen under the rider presently in the House budget proposal.

Bottom line: The hill we have to climb to bring back the health of the Great Lakes just got longer and steeper.

Public in Traverse City asks Corps to declare war on Asian carp

January 28, 2011

The Traverse City public meeting on Asian carp I talked about in yesterday’s post was quite an event.  NWF’s Jeff Alexander and Marc Smith were both at the hearing. Check out Jeff Alexander’s blog post and the AP story on the Traverse City hearing.

The crowd was large and frustrated with the delays by the Army Corps of Engineers. As NWF’s Marc Smith said at the meeting, “We just don’t see why it should take five years from start to finish. There’s just a lack of urgency on the part of the Corps.”

One resident said the Corps should battle the carp with same urgency that we’d fight a war.

The Corps may be getting the message; they told the audience at the meeting that they’d be taking some actions right away. But the Corps didn’t promise to speed the completion of the study needed to build a permanent barrier.

Slow Progress on Asian Carp

January 27, 2011

Asian carp news didn’t take a break over the holidays.

The last month has seen an important marshaling of forces against the march of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes. Consider:

• The leading experts in eDNA testing published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal that should finally put to rest any doubt that Asian carp are (or have been) where the eDNA says they are. The paper should add a little starch to the backbone of the Army Corps of Engineers when it comes to them taking action quickly to stop any further invasions by the carp. It should also enable all the federal and state agencies to stand up to the carp-deniers in the Chicago shipping industry.

• Michigan’s new Attorney General Bill Schuette is pursuing an appeal in federal court to force the Army Corps of Engineers to take rapid action on a permanent barrier in the Chicago canals to stop the carp.  Stay tuned as the Seventh Circuit hears the case.

• Frustrated by the slow pace of the Army Corps of Engineers, two independent bodies are doing their own in-depth feasibility study of how and where to erect a permanent barrier to separate Lake Michigan from Asian-carp infested rivers in the Mississippi River Basin. The Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Cities Initiative will complete the $2 million study by January, 2012. One of the primary purposes of the report is to jumpstart the Corps’ own feasibility study, which the Corps claims will take over five years. That time frame is simply unacceptable. By that time the Great Lakes may be the Great Carp Ponds. The Corps needs to use the completed GLC/GLSLC study to finish its work much faster.

• In October, a group of prestigious scientists from the U.S. and Canada began a rigorous risk assessment to describe the likely impacts that Asian carp will have on the Great Lakes. The risk assessment will hopefully explode the other myths being propagated by some among the Chicago shippers that (a) Asian carp will not travel through the Chicago canals in numbers great enough to achieve breeding populations; and (b) even if they did, the carp would not thrive in the Great Lakes or their tributaries. Although both of these claims are demonstrably false, some continue to make them. I expect that the risk assessment, once completed, will bury them once and for all.

• Leaving the Chicago canals for a moment, citizens all over the region are attending public meetings and calling for the Corps to close the other pathways that Asian carp might take to the lakes. The Corps last month released a preliminary draft of its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS). The draft (called “Other Pathways Preliminary Risk Characterization”) identified 18 potential pathways (outside the Chicago area) where the risk of the carp reaching the lakes is “acute,” “high,” or “medium.”

The draft study identified another 13 potential pathways where the risk is described as low. The report identified three particularly worrisome areas:

“One location was singled out as the greatest concern, the Eagle Marsh site in Fort Wayne, IN. Interim and long-term risk reduction measures were deemed necessary to mitigate potentially imminent risk of Asian carp reaching Lake Erie through the aquatic pathway that develops at this location during a significant storm event.

“The Long Lake connection to the Ohio and Erie Canal in Summit County, OH south of Akron, OH, and the Libby Branch of the Swan River large wetlands complex in Itasca and Aitkin County, MN are also identified as High Risk locations for ANS interbasin transfer.”

The report recommends additional study prior to taking action for all the sites except Eagle Marsh. That’s the site where the headwaters of the Maumee River, the largest tributary to Lake Erie, pass within a mile of tributaries to the Wabash River, which already is carp-infested. Concern about flooding that could connect the two streams via Eagle Marsh prompted the Indiana DNR to erect an emergency fence through the marsh.

The Corps is now in the midst of gathering public testimony as part of the NEPA review of the GLMRIS “Other Pathways” study at meetings in 12 cities (today in Traverse City, next week in Cincinnati, and March 8th for meeting in Ann Arbor that was rescheduled due to weather). And wherever the Corps is, so is NWF. Our very own Jeff Alexander has been blogging from the hearings; check out Jeff’s posts.

This is good stuff, but we have lots more marshaling to do. We need to keep the pressure on the Corps to get the study done faster and then to start work on the ground toward a permanent barrier. To speed the Corps’ study we should demand that it use the Great Lakes Commission/Cities Initiative report that will be published in 12 months. Reinventing the wheel is rarely a good idea, and here it would be particularly harmful.

The public meetings are a great way to make our voices heard. Let’s get out there and tell the Corps to get moving.

Army Corps: Cracking open the door for Asian carp

November 30, 2010

Last week I attended the “Michigan Asian Carp Prevention Workshop” put on by the state’s Office of the Great Lakes. It was a really solid event with excellent presentations and new information.

The workshop highlighted the significant recent progress on Asian carp, including the:

Unfortunately, even as some progress is being made, the Army Corps of Engineers are opening the door for Asian carp.The Corps seems determined to resist serious consideration of hydrological separation in the Chicago waterway system.

The latest obstacle to shutting the door on Asian carp is the way the Corps is setting up its feasibility study for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other invasive species between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes. Congress passed a law ordering the Corps to conduct that study (called GLMRIS – the Great Lakes Mississippi River – Study). The law (the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, Pub. L. 110-114, §3061(d))  says,

(d) FEASIBILITY STUDY.-The Secretary, in consultation with appropriate Federal, State, local, and nongovernmental entities, shall conduct, at Federal expense, a feasibility study of the range of options and technologies available to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and other aquatic pathways.(emphasis added)

But the study that Congress ordered is not the study the Corps wants to conduct. In the Great Lakes Mississippi River study plan and in public presentations, the Corps says it will assess the feasibility of measures “that could be applied to prevent or reduce the risk of ANS transfer between Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.” But “reducing the risk” can be pretty minimal – like doing more electrofishing. It certainly isn’t prevention, and it certainly isn’t what Congress ordered.

When I asked the Corps staff at the workshop why they were not following Congress’s explicit orders (and the law) on the study, the staff said that no mechanism can be 100 percent effective in preventing introductions, so they wanted to “lower expectations.” That’s why they added “or reduce the risk” to the purpose of the study.

That’s a pretty significant lowering of expectations – almost to zero. I asked why they didn’t at least say the study purpose was “prevent to the maximum extent possible.” The Corps said they hadn’t thought of that!

Here’s what’s at stake:

Congress has ordered the Corps to evaluate the feasibility of measures that will actually prevent the introduction of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. That assessment would include economic and social factors as well as ecological ones, and it could be that the Corps concludes that some prevention measures are not feasible, or that some measures are more feasible than others.

But the Corps isn’t even willing to live by those rules. Instead, the Corps wants to assess the feasibility of measures that do NOT prevent the introduction of Asian carp… but only reduce the risk of introduction. Virtually any measure can be said to reduce the risk in some way. So the Corps might be assessing the economic and social costs of doing more electrofishing, or more commercial fishing, or improving the operations of the electric fences – all well and good, but none designed to prevent the introduction of Asian carp into the lakes.

And the Corps plans to unfairly compare “risk reducing” measures and their costs to the costs of measures that really prevent the introduction of carp – like hydrological separation. Which ones do you think the Corps will conclude are more feasible? I can answer that question now; we don’t have to spend millions of dollars and wait 5 years for that bad news.

The Corps should obey the law. And we all should hold them to it. Let’s ask the new Asian carp director, John Goss to do just that. Email him at


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