Despite legislative progress, many barriers stand in way of new project to control Asian carp

The funding of a project to stop the introduction and spread of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species continues to enjoy bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, but Great Lakes advocates also see many obstacles in the way of construction and completion.
For the Great Lakes ecosystem and the region's economy, “the stakes are really high,” says Anna-Lisa Castle, water policy manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes says.
“You think about all of the boating, angling, and tourism and recreation in the Great Lakes, the $7 billion fishing economy,” she says. “And the other thing about [Asian] carp is that they won’t stop there. You could see carp make their way to the waterways that connect to the Great Lakes.”
The next big step in control efforts is the placement of new barriers at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which is part of the Chicago Area Waterway System, a mix of natural and engineered waterways that connect the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. This system is the most likely pathway for Asian carp to reach the lake.
In July, the U.S. House passed the Water Resources Development Act (HR 7575), which authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Brandon Road Lock and Dam project at a cost of $863 million. The U.S. Senate also has passed a measure with authorization language in it.

According to Castle, the U.S. Congress approved an authorization bill for Brandon Road in 2019 as well, only to have questions arise about its wording. This year’s measures would fix that problem, and also would have the federal government pay a higher share than normal for an Army Corps project. Typically, the cost distribution is 65 percent (federal) vs. 35 percent (non-federal sponsor); the U.S. House-passed bill puts the split at 80:20.
Still, even with this cost-share adjustment, costs will remain a challenge.
Illinois is the host state and non-federal sponsor. Last year, while signaling his support for the project, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his state was “not in a financial position to commit to the full plan in its current form.”
One idea is for other Great Lakes jurisdictions to contribute. In 2019, Michigan announced its intention to provide $8 million for the project’s preconstruction, engineering and design phase, but earlier this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed that line item from the state budget in order to redirect funding for the state’s COVID-19 response. But in September, a bill to restore this funding commitment was signed into law.
Meanwhile, Pritzker has not yet signed a formal agreement with the Army Corps, a step needed for the federal agency to move to the project's next phase. The delay is due in part to concerns about language in the agreement seen as conflicting with Illinois water law, Castle says.
In 2019, University of Illinois researchers linked the introduction of silver carp (one of four species of Asian carp) to a decline in native sport fish in the Upper Mississippi River System. In the Illinois River, bighead and silver carp now comprise 63 percent of the total weight of all the river's fish.
It is not certain whether species of Asian carp would survive and grow in the Great Lakes. However, a recent University of Michigan study concluded that the risk of Asian carp becoming established in Lake Michigan was “high.”

 

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Stateline Midwest: September 20202.92 MB