A bill from Michigan Representative Candice S. Miller tabled Wednesday with Congress would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consult, plan and build a barrier to hydrologically separate the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds in one year following its passage.
“I believe total separation is the only way to make sure that Asian carp do not enter the Great Lakes,” Miller said in a statement on her website following the introduction of the bill. “This project will require the buy in of stakeholders from across the country and significant resources, but we must have the political will to protect our magnificent Great Lakes.”
The Defending Against Aquatic Invasive Species Act 2014 comes after the Army Corps released a highly anticipated report on Jan. 6 that outlined possible solutions for keeping Asian carp and other aquatic invasives from moving between watersheds.
The most elaborate, expensive and technologically difficult of the recommendations was an eye-popping $18 billion plan to physically separate the water bodies to eliminate the Chicago Area Waterway System as the largest and most likely entrance point for the destructive fish species to move from the Mississippi River into Lake Michigan.
Miller, a Republican, said her bill sets in motion a process to give the Army Corps the authority they need from elected lawmakers to take action on containing Asian carp. At a town hall meeting on Jan. 16 in Cleveland, Ohio, Corps engineer Dave Wethington told more than one hundred people in attendance the Army Corps requires two things to proceed: direction from government and money. The act tabled Wednesday addresses the former key issue.
If the bill passes, the Secretary of the Army would be called upon to consult with Great Lakes state governors, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the bi-national Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative for 180 days, after which construction must begin within six months.
The federal government in Washington must also be prepared to fund upwards of 100 per cent of development and construction costs, according to the bill.
But the move to separate the water bodies shouldn’t be done without proper consideration of what impact closing the water link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River will have on downstream state economies, said Republican Senator Dan Coats from Indiana.
“The Great Lakes region must address the dangers posed by Asian carp migration but not in a way that devastates Northwest Indiana’s economy,” Coats told the Northwest Indiana Times. “Separating Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River is a costly, unreasonable solution that will jeopardize Hoosier commerce and jobs.”
Kay Nelson, environmental affairs director with the Northwest Indiana Forum, told the Times that “physical separation of the Chicago waterway system will require decades to implement, and significantly more research is necessary” to make sure any such move would avoid having detrimental impacts on water levels in the Great Lakes or increase the risk of floods.
“It’s also important to maintain the very important marine navigation passage that Northwest Indiana industry relies upon for the movement of raw and unfinished products,” Nelson said.
A 2010 study found that more than $1.9 billion of the $14 billion in annual trade that passes through the Port of Indiana comes arrives via Chicago.
But the future of the Great Lakes should not be held hostage to the “century old mistake” made when the artificial barrier was created linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, Miller said.
“I’ve lived on the Great Lakes my entire life and understand the dire need to protect and preserve them now and for generations to come, which is why I hope my colleagues join me in this important effort,” she said.
“The time to act is now.”