Major step taken to help block Asian carp from Great Lakes

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GREAT LAKES – Another major step has been taken for the authorization of a waterway project to help block Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.

Marc Gaden, communications director and legislative liaison with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, told the Recorder last week that the US House voted on December 8 to authorize construction of a long-studied waterway project that lawmakers hope will halt the progress of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes. “This is part of the Water Resources and Development Act. Nothing could be built until they had received authority from them (US House). Now the US Senate will have to give its authority.”

“Yes, this is a very good thing and moves this one major step forward,” stated Mr. Gaden. 

The Detroit News reported that lawmakers from both US political parties hailed the first-time authorization as a major milestone for the project to fortify the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, which engineers have identified as a choke point to halt the spread of the invasive carp species. The measure also boosts the federal cost share for the project from 65 percent to 80 percent, but Congress will still need to allocate funding. The state of Illinois, the project’s non-federal sponsor, would cover the remainder of the cost.

“We’ve been trying to get this done for a long time,” said US Rep. Debbie Dingell. “This needed to pass, and it’s a victory for the country,” she told the Detroit News.

Republican Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, also a co-chair of the Great Lakes task force, told the Detroit News the bipartisan bill “demonstrates that Congress can take effective steps to protect and preserve the Great Lakes ecology while prioritizing and modernizing infrastructure.”

Brandon Road is considered an ideal site for blocking Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species from going upstream in part because of its physical configuration—a 24 foot difference in water elevation at the dam that limits upstream transfer of the fish.

The estimated cost of the project by the US Army Corps of Engineers is $778 million for construction.

The work includes an acoustic fish deterrent which uses underwater sound to keep fish from going through, an electrical dispersal barrier, a flushing lock designed to move water from the upper lock prior to passage, and an air bubble curtain. There would be launches built up and below the locks to stop any possible passage associated with these craft, as well as pesticide use where necessary and public education.

If approved, the work is expected to take years to complete. Mr. Gaden emphasized the ultimate goal is restoring physical separation between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin.

“The fisheries commission has long supported physical separation,” Mr. Gaden told Ontario Out of Doors. “Brandon Road is an important project we can do now. It adds some strong defences. It’s not the be-all, end-all, but the ultimate goal needs to be the physical separation that Mother Nature provided,” he added. 

“The (US) Senate now needs to act for this to go through. I’m cautiously optimistic, but as they say it’s never over until it’s over,” Mr. Gaden told the Recorder.