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Asian carp pose threat to Michigan waterways

By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

DETROIT, Mich. — Last month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox asked the United States Supreme Court to close Chicago area locks and waterways from Lake Michigan to prevent Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.

“Stopping Asian carp is an economic and environmental necessity for Michigan,” Cox said in a statement issued Dec. 21. “The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable resource.

Thousands of jobs are at stake, and we will not get a second chance once the carp enter Lake Michigan. The actions of Illinois and federal authorities have not been enough to assure us the Lakes are safe. That’s why the waterways must be shut down until we are assured that Michigan will be protected.”

Cox is asking for closure of the locks at the O’Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works Operation of the sluice gates at the Wilmette Pumping Station. He also wants new barriers erected to prevent carp from escaping from the Des Plaines River into the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal during floods and from getting to Lake Michigan through the Grand and Little Calumet River. He is also asking for a comprehensive study of the Chicago waterway system to define where and how many carp are in these waters and to kill them. He wants action to permanently separate these waters from the Great Lakes.

He’s also concerned because recent environmental DNA (eDNA) testing, sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, revealed that Asian carp may be past the electric barrier, which was built to stop them. They may be in the Calumet-Sag Channel, near the O’Brien Lock and approximately seven miles from Lake Michigan. eDNA testing involves the collection of water samples in a given area, which contain sloughed off fish matter. Scientists are able to isolate and identify the DNA of many different kinds of fish in this way and have found the DNA of Asian carp.

The Corps closed the Lock after the eDNA testing, but then reopened it after extensive netting of the fish yielded no Asian carp. According to the Attorney General, even with the Lock closed Asian carp could still get into the Grand and Little Calumet Rivers, which have no permanent barriers. Also, according to a court document, Cox is concerned that flooding of the DesPlaines River, which parallels the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal for 20 miles, could result in the introduction of Asian carp to the canal.
After the waterway was poisoned recently, a dead Asian carp was found lakeward of the Lockport dam. Although it was not found past the barrier, no one knows where the carp died and many of the poisoned fish sank to the bottom.

The Army Corps of Engineers Chicago office views the Asian carp as a serious threat to the Great Lakes. Its Asian Carp Rapid Response Workgroup put it this way in a recent statement: “Asian carp are an impending ecological disaster for the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater resource in the world, and it is the responsibility of federal and state agencies to protect this important ecosystem.”

The legal action is the latest in a long history of disputes between and amongst Great Lakes states over the Chicago Diversion.
The Diversion, started in the late 1800s, was undertaken to help Chicago-area residents deal with drinking water, as well as sewage disposal issues. Several diversion projects reversed the flow of the Chicago River, connecting it with the Calumet Rivers and DesPlaines River, creating a connection that includes the Mississippi River.
This created a connection between the Mississippi and Great Lakes.

In 1922, Wisconsin sued Illinois and the local waterway authority to stop Illinois’ increasing diversions of Great Lakes water. The other Great Lakes states joined in the suit, except Indiana. In 1930, the U.S. Supreme Court found that these diversions were unlawful. It set up a special master and issued a decree, telling Illinois it needed to find a way to better manage its wastewater. Since then, there have been four modifications to the decree: 1933, 1956, 1967 and 1980.

In the 1990s, Asian carp escaped from fish farms in the South, where they were used to help control algae.

Some ended up escaping into the Mississippi River and quickly thrived, moving up the river. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asian carp can grow up to three feet long and 60 pounds in weight. They have a tendency to jump out of the water into moving boats, injuring people and damaging equipment.

1/6/2010