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    The Great Lakes are in a state of emergency; they are under attack from a number of invasive species including the Asian carp.  Currently 55 miles lie between Lake Michigan and the Asian carp population center.  This 55-mile stretch of the Mississippi river was the focus of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS), which highlighted eight potential solutions on how to stop species like the Asian carp.

     

    .

    In the early 1970’s, Asian carp were used in Arkansas as a pesticide and weed killer in early aquatic farming efforts.  These farms were kept near the Mississippi river until one day the river flooded.  River water spilled into these farms, giving Asian carp a pathway directly to the Mississippi.  Since that storm event, the carp have destroyed the previous Mississippi River ecosystem, and will do the same to the Great Lakes if left unchecked.

     

    Asian carp are filter feeders; meaning they get their food by swallowing massive amounts of plankton in the water.  The issue is that other fish, specifically those on the bottom of almost every aquatic ecosystem, feed on plankton too.  The Asian carp, weighing up to 100 pounds, can eat over 20% of their weight in plankton per day.  This makes plankton scarce for other bottom feeders who will eventually die out without it, creating a chain reaction in the aquatic food web. 

     

    If the Asian carp reach Lake Michigan, they could wreak havoc on the Lake’s $7- billion/per year fishing industry, not to mention the impact that it would have on tourism in Great Lake states.  This was the motivation behind the GLMRIS study, which yielded a small number of plausible solutions.

     

    Out of the eight options highlighted by the GLMRIS study, five would take 25 years to complete; one with a total cost exceeding $18 billion.  From there, one option suggests simply increasing public education about the fish and encouraging citizens to actively catch the Asian carp in an effort to control the population.  This will not be enough if the population center, containing millions of carp, reach the banks of Lake Michigan.  Of the remaining two options, one is keeping operations status quo which is not an option, as the carp will overtake the current controls.  This leaves what I believe to be the only viable option; a control technology alternative with buffer zone (marked by * in table).

     

    Option Details

    Cost

    Years to Completion

    No new federal action – Sustained activities

    $0.00

    N/A

    Nonstructural control technologies – chemicals, inspections, education etc.

    $68,000,000

    0 years

    Mid-system control technologies w/out a buffer zone – Addition of two GLMRIS locks

    $15,543,000,000

    25 years

    *electronic control technology alternative w/ buffer zone – Three GLMRIS locks, two ANS treatment plants, three electric barriers, two physical barriers, and two GLMRIS reservoirs

    $7,806,000,000*

    10 years*

    Lakefront Hydrologic separation – physical separation w/ new treatment plants on lakefront waterways

    $18,389,000,000

    25 years

    Mid-system hydrologic separation - physical separation w/ new treatment plants in river before lakefront

    $15,512,000,000

    25 years

    Mid-system separation Cal-Sag open control technologies with a buffer zone – combination of all ANS control w/ strategic placement

    $15,097,000,000

    25 years

    Mid-system separation CSSC open control technologies with a buffer zone – combination of all ANS control w/ strategic placement

    $8,333,000,000

    25 years

     

    The current control method includes a canal in the Mississippi that enacts Electronic Dispersal Barriers, which effectively stun fish without allowing them to pass through the canal.  Upgrades would be made to the current electronic gate located in the Mississippi before it divides into its tributaries.  From here, two physical barriers with necessary flood risk management mediation measures would be constructed.  In addition to the two barriers, three Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) treatment plants, electronic gates, and screened sluice gates would be constructed at strategic points across the Great Lakes Basin.

    I believe the implementation of this buffer zone alternative would be the best option given current circumstances.  There is not 25 years, nor $18 billion, to spare with the immediate threat of an Asian carp invasion.  This buffer alternative is estimated to take 10 years to enact, and only cost $7.8 billion.  Both of these numbers are much more attractive than the alternatives, although there is still debate if there is even 10 years to spare.

     

    As it stands, the federal government is working with state and local governments, as well as local stakeholders to decide a course of action.  Funding for the project will be a gray-area. It will take a tremendous amount of cooperation between groups in order to mobilize and prevent an invasion, and even more cooperation if legislators are tasked with appropriating the funds.  All eight Great Lakes states and Canada have huge stakes in the well-being of the lakes.  Ultimately they will have to be extremely active on the issue, but because it is still unclear what the cost will be and who will foot the bill, it is difficult to make any progress.

    Currently, the US Army Corps of Engineers is looking at ways to upgrade the current electric lock in an effort to maintain operations until an alternative is selected.  This would be an early step in the “electronic control alternative with buffer zone” option, which could reduce the time to completion.

     

    The Asian carp continue to move closer to Lake Michigan each day.  If they are successful in entering the lake, they will be near impossible to get rid of.  Asian carp need 10-15 adult fish to prolifically repopulate an area.  The margin for error is unbelievably small, and every precaution must be taken.  However, swiftness is also needed because if action is delayed too long the carp may surpass current controls.  Because of these facts, I believe an electronic control with buffer zone is the most effective option on the table.  The cost-for-effectiveness ratio is better than any other option highlighted by the GLMRIS report, making what I believe the most viable option.

    References:

    "Asian Carp Overview." National Parks Service. National Parks Service, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

    "GLMRIS Report." GLMRIS Report. United States Army Corps of Engineers, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

    Spangler, Todd. "Asian Carp Report Falls Short on a Straightforward Solution."Detroit Free Press. Gannett Company, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

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