Asian Carp Study Largest Since Reversal of Chicago River

photo asian carp great lakes mississippi mouth
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This $2 million project, funded mostly with private money, is billed as the most comprehensive look at the Chicago waterway system since the reversal of the Chicago River more than 100 years ago. This time, the threat is Asian carp, rather than pesky sewage. The study, as explained by the Great Lakes Commission, is aimed at developing options for separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River "while improving transportation, water quality and flood control."

Maybe that's too wide of a goal. An infestation of Asian carp in the Great Lakes is said to threaten a $7 billion commercial and sport fishery. Can engineering prevent the movement of aquatic invasives like Asian carp, and modernize the system at the same time?

As explained in a Project Fact Sheet:

"Eco separation is a relatively simple concept: it means preventing the interbasin transfer of aquatic organisms through waterways. It likely will entail using physical barriers to prevent the movement of aquatic organisms--at all life stages--via canals and waterways between the watersheds. How to achieve this goal, however, is unclear and difficult to visualize--and thus is the purpose of the project."Â Â

The project, called "Envisioning a Chicago Area Waterway System for the 21st Century," is being undertaken by the Great Lakes Commission, representing U.S. states and Canadian provinces, and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, representing mayors.

photo chicago river canal asian carp study

Are They Already Here?
The commission hopes to see the project completed by the end of this year, with options for separating the lakes and river system presented in January 2012. That should be soon enough, although the carp could already be swimming in Lake Michigan, based on a recent peer-reviewed study on carp DNA.

The $2 million comes from numerous foundations, and was just secured this week, following an announcement of the plan in July. The lead consultant is HDR Engineering of Chicago.

Both the Great Lakes Commission and the Cities Initiative have called separation the best approach to keep the monster fish from entering the Great Lakes.

The Corps Has Its Own Study
It bears note that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is in the midst of a Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, which will result in a recommendation to Congress.

The Corps is taking comments on its project until March 31, and holding public meetings in New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri. But phase 1 could take until 2015.

Will the Powers That Be react soon enough to prevent an invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes? Or is control and adaptation the best plan? Coincidently, $2 million is the same amount being spent by the State of Illinois to ship invasive Asian carp back to China, where they're considered a delicacy.