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updated: 1/8/2014 11:35 AM

Solution to invasive species a long time coming

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  • Asian carp are shown here jumping after being jolted by an electric current from a research boat on the Illinois River near Havana during a study on the fish's population. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report on Monday about options for keeping Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.

    Asian carp are shown here jumping after being jolted by an electric current from a research boat on the Illinois River near Havana during a study on the fish's population. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report on Monday about options for keeping Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.
    Associated Press/June 2012 file

  • Video: U.S. Army Corps message


I really like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- as entertainment, anyway.

In my view, this federal agency is a treat to observe on a daily basis, especially with regard to waterways and dams, and now invasive species.

An email came to me Tuesday with this headline in the subject box: "Media Advisory: Major study to highlight possible solutions to Asian carp threatening Great Lakes."

I couldn't believe my eyes.

"Possible," it said. If I read this correctly, the Corps was going to offer a raft of suggestions on how to get to the heart of the matter and get rid of all the Asian carp and maybe some other invasive species causing havoc in Lake Michigan. Possibly.

Here is more from that news release: "On Jan. 6, 2014, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS)."

I have great appreciation for the way governmental agencies toss acronyms around like empty beer cans. In its report, the Corps outlined up to eight options for protecting the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River systems from movement of Asian carp and other potential aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). Some of the options will consider physical separation of the CAWS. Those are bureaucratic abbreviations, not my creations.

The email continued: "In January 2012, the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released their own report that presented three strategies for restoring the natural divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes -- and, in the process, modernizing the CAWS.

"The GLC and Cities Initiative conducted an intensive 16-month, $2 million study, and presented three viable engineering alternatives. All three included measures to improve the CAWS's effectiveness in flood management, waste water treatment and maritime transportation, as well as stopping the interbasin movement of AIS. The report from the Corps is supposed to provide a wealth of valuable information about the CAWS, but will not recommend a preferred solution."

Why no solution, you ask? Well, sorry, I don't have an answer.

"All 16 senators from the eight Great Lakes states recently signed a letter requesting that the Corps work quickly with Congress and the region's stakeholders to define a path forward to address this urgent problem," the email reported. "The GLC and the Cities Initiative look forward to working with all parties in this important process."

And then Tuesday afternoon, the Corps released some of its findings from its multiple-choice project in another email.

"The Corps has suggested physically separating the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds as the most effective way to prevent aquatic invasive species like Asian carp from moving between the two iconic waters. Conservation groups today responded to a congressionally mandated study released Monday that outlines eight ways to prevent the transfer of invasive organisms between the two water bodies via Chicago-area canals built more than 100 years ago to connect the two systems. Of all the options studied, the groups agreed that only one -- physical separation -- is effective at stopping the transfer of the various invasive fish, parasites, grasses, algae and other organisms."

Well, good. At least the Corps has recognized what just about everyone else has long been saying.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study leaves no doubt that the most effective way to stop invasive species from wreaking environmental and economic harm on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River communities is through the construction of a physical barrier," says Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "This paves the way for Congress and our region to move from study to action on a permanent solution that will protect the environment, jobs and way of life for millions of people."

This report follows an earlier report in which the Army Corps admitted that a series of electrical barriers designed to repel the advancing Asian carp could be breached in a variety of ways, leaving Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes vulnerable to the destructive nonnative fish.

"All evidence points to one conclusion: Physical separation is the only defensible solution to the epidemic of invasive species which pose a threat to people, wildlife and our economy," said Robert Hirschfeld, water policy specialist with the Prairie Rivers Network. "It's time to get away from Band-Aid approaches and toward a long-term, comprehensive, and permanent solution. This report can help us do that."

The Army Corps findings mesh with overwhelming public support for physically separating the two systems. The public has clamored for a long-term solution to the Asian carp crisis ever since environmental DNA of the fish was discovered past the electric fence in 2009.

The Army Corps pegs the cost of separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems in the billions ($18 billion for the 25-year project), a cost similar to large-scale infrastructure projects in Midwestern cities. Building a physical barrier would also mean restoring and revitalizing part of the Chicago River and the area's drinking water and wastewater systems. And it would help address flooding.

Do you think private concerns could get the job done quicker and for less money? That could happen, but it won't ever be allowed because taxpayers would then discover we don't need the Corps to overspend our dough.

•Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at

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