We must close the Chicago waterways connections to keep Asian carp from taking over our Great Lakes

The long awaited report from the US Army Corps of Engineers on how to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes has finally been released. The report evaluates the many waterways connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan –all potential avenues to allow several species of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. The 5 year report costing $20M is titled Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS).

Silver and bighead carp already make up about 95% of the biomass in rivers downstream of the Chicago River. Over a century ago Chicago built a canal to reverse the flow of the Chicago River to divert their sewage and stormwater south into the Mississippi rather than their waterfront beaches. The “reversed” Chicago River flow has been supported by two US Supreme Court decisions.

The bottom line of the detailed GLMRIS report is delineation of 8 options to deal with this significant threat of biological contamination. Options ranging from the status quo all the way to spending $20B on separating the hydrological connections with physical barriers — something environmental groups and several states say is the only viable option.

So we have to question: why did the USACE fail to make any recommendation? Do they really think that the status quo is a viable option? Their own recent investigation shows that schools of small carp swim through the USACE’s electric barriers when barges are transiting through.

And why is the USACE only defining the area of impacts and risk assessment on the US side of the Great Lakes? Fish don’t recognize the US Canada boundary. Who gave the USACE direction to only investigate US risk when Canada’s Dept of Fisheries and Oceans provided detailed risk assessments for all 5 species that are currently in the Mississippi River? Our DFO assessed the risk as high not just for the Great Lakes but noted silver carp could invade all of the rivers and lakes up to James Bay and west to Alberta. Silver carp are so dense in the rivers downstream of the electric barriers that they jump up to 5 feet out of the water in large numbers and can hit passing boaters and hurt them. Just look for a posted video – there are many.

The Corps are holding 6 public meetings in the States during the month of January but none of these meeting are even close to locations Canadians could attend. But these are shared waters and we Canadians have a lot to lose if these fish get into the Great Lakes at Chicago – loss of fish habitat including wetlands and our native fishery. Recreational sport fishing alone in the Great Lakes is valued at $7-8 Billion annually.