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Army Corps waffles on Asian carp

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At a hearing tomorrow on an Army Corps study of ways to block invasive species, environmentalist will call for stepped-up action – and oppose Corps plans to scale back the study’s goals.

Authorized in 2007 and funded last year, a plan for the $25-million study to prevent invasive species like Asian carp from migrating between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River was finally announced [2] by the Corps in November.

But Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel [3] reports that the Corps has pulled back from language in the Congressional authorization – to “prevent the spread” of invasive species – and now says it will look at measures to “prevent or reduce the risk” of invasion.

“This ‘reduce risk’ language — which the Army Corps seems to have pulled out of thin air — potentially opens the door to the Army Corps studying all sorts of half-measures that won’t actually prevent the spread of invasive species,” Thom Cmar of the Natural Resources Defense Council [4] told Egan.

While the primary focus of the study will be on Chicago-area waterways – where eDNA tests have found signs of carp beyond electronic barriers since last year – it will look at the entire Great Lakes region.  NRDC and the Alliance of the Great Lakes [5]will press for an early focus on the Chicago system; the entire study is now expected to take five years, a deadline that’s been pushed back several times.

The Chicago Tribune [6] downplayed Asian carp fears in a Sunday editorial but may have missed the big picture, says Josh Mogerman of NRDC.  The editorial cited a federal judge’s ruling denying a motion by Great Lake states for an injunction shutting down Chicago area locks, saying the judge found “the dreaded Asian carp aren’t an imminent threat.”

In fact, as Cmar points out in a post on the ruling at NRDC’s Switchboard [7], the judge found the states had failed to prove an imminent threat based on the presence of a breeding population in Lake Michigan.

That’s the legal standard, but the policy and planning standard needs to be tougher, Mogerman said.  “We may not be able to prove that an invasion is taking place until it’s too late,” he said. What we do know is that the existing emergency system is leaking.

With a five-year study and several additional years to implement a plan, “we’re talking about a decade out,” Mogergman said.  “That’s not responsibly addressing the threat.”

While the Corps waffles, the consensus on the need for ecological separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems is increasingly solid.  Illinois Senator Dick Durbin joined Debbie Stabanow of Michigan to sponsor a bill mandating an expedited study focused on separation last year. (The Senate hasn’t voted on the measure.)

Even Mayor Daley has backed the idea of separation [8] – though he may be wrong that it won’t require the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to disinfect its wastewater (a requirement which the City of Chicago has endorsed, by the way).

The Army Corps hearing takes place from noon to 7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, December 15) at the Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes has a recap of the past year here [9]; Egan’s series on the issue is here [10].