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Environmental advocates call for Great Lakes barrier following Army Corps invasive species report


Environmental advocates are calling for major action to stop the movement of invasive species like Asian carp from the Mississippi River into the Great Lakes, following a new report offering options to do so.

The extensive report from the Army Corps of Engineers, released Monday, provided eight options to combat their spread.

Asian carp have a tendency of forcing out native species that make up a multibillion-dollar fishing industry on the lakes, and interfering with recreational activities.

The report focused on preventing the movement of invasives at the network of rivers and canals in and near Chicago with five direct links between the two water bodies’ drainage basins. The Corps did not state a preferred method to accomplish that goal.

Two options would place dams in the Chicago waterway system to seal off Lake Michigan from the carp-infested Mississippi River watershed.

In a call with media Tuesday, a collection of environmental advocates said the barrier methods were the only viable options.

“It’s time to get away from Band-Aid approaches and toward a long-term, comprehensive and permanent solution,” said Robert Hirschfeld, a water policy specialist at the Prairie Rivers Network.

D. Lee Willbanks, executive director of Save the River, based in Clayton, said Tuesday afternoon that there were multiple long-term benefits to the physical barrier strategy.

“We see it time and time again,” he said. “Once an invasive gets into a system, you can’t unwind it; you can’t take it back.”

However, the barriers are the most expensive options, with a cost of as much as $18.4 billion, and could take about 25 years to develop, since it would require an extensive reworking of Chicago’s flood-control and sewage treatment systems in addition to building the dams. Multiple industry groups also have complained that such an option would negatively affect their operations.

Other methods presented by the Corps would use different methods of technologies and upgrades to the current electric barrier, which faces accusations of limited effectiveness. Another would create a buffer zone with multiple control technologies. The cheapest approach would step up use of existing measures such as netting carp and treating the water with chemicals, at a cost of $68 million a year.

On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said in a statement that he looked forward to “reviewing the findings of the study prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and discussing them with local stakeholders.”

“Combating invasive species is important to ensuring the economic and environmental well-being of the region for years to come,” he said.

The full Army Corps of Engineers study can be found at invasives-study.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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