State may bear brunt of keeping fish
out of water
Federal funds unlikely for Great Lakes Asian carp threat
By Chris Young
State Journal-Register (IL)
Published January 15, 2006
The expense of operating an electric barrier designed
to keep invasive Asian carp out of Lake Michigan may fall
to Illinois, once construction and testing are complete
Congress has not appropriated money to pay the estimated
$20,000 per month electric bill, along with other costs,
and prospects are dim that the federal government will
come up with funds to operate the barrier this year.
The bill to operate and maintain the new barrier, as
well as a temporary barrier approximately 1,000 feet upstream,
is about $1 million per year, according to Mike Conlin,
head of the Illinois Department of Natur-
al Resources' Office of Resource Conservation.
"The critical thing we need right now is the $1
million to maintain and operate both barriers and another
$5 million to make Barrier I permanent," he said.
The first barrier was constructed in 2002 as a demonstration
project, and its electrodes are wearing out. Officials
would like to keep that barrier as a backup and as an
extra level of protection.
Conlin says keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan is
the responsibility of the federal government because Illinois
is not the only state with a stake in the future of the
Asian carp were brought to the United States in the 1970s
to control algae in ponds in the southern United States.
The carp escaped about a decade ago when flooding bridged
the distance between the ponds and nearby waterways. They
moved steadily up the Mississippi River and, more recently,
the Illinois River. They are within 50 miles of Lake Michigan
and 22 miles from the temporary electric barrier near
The barriers use electric current to turn fish around
but not kill them.
Biologists are concerned about the effects of rising
numbers of Asian carp on native fish such as paddlefish
and bigmouth buffalo, which compete for the same food.
The price tag for the new barrier in the Chicago Sanitary
and Ship Canal is $9.1 million. The canal eventually links
Lake Michigan with the Illinois River.
Conlin said Illinois already has contributed $1.8 million
for its construction while other Great Lakes states have
chipped in $475,000. When other costs are added in, including
development of a rapid response plan if Asian carp reach
the barrier, Illinois' total outlays reach $2.3 million.
Phil Moy, an aquatic invasive species specialist with
the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Program, said responsibility
for operating the barrier apparently will fall to Illinois.
Language to authorize the corps to operate the barrier
and funds to carry out the work is included in a pair
of bills before Congress, but Moy said neither has passed
It is not unusual for the local sponsor to take over
completed projects, he said. But most, like maintaining
a levee, don't need $20,000 worth of electricity each
"That's a pretty big chunk of change over the year,"
However, Moy said Illinois played a crucial role in getting
the project going by agreeing to be the local sponsor.
"If they hadn't picked up the ball and said we're
willing to take this responsibility, I don't know where
we'd be in construction," Moy said.
Other Great Lakes states contributed some money, but
Moy said even small amounts are significant.
"People recognize this is a regional project, and
that is the argument we are using with the corps,"
he said. "But the corps right now doesn't have the
authorization to run Barrier II or the funds to operate
Construction of the new barrier should be complete in
the next week. Testing is scheduled to begin Jan. 23 and
will continue through May or June, about the time money
will run out to operate Barrier I.
Safety concerns include electrical arcing, which was
experienced by the crew of a tow that had tied up to shore
within the barrier's electric field.
"They were tying up to a metal cleat on the side
of the channel using a steel cable," Moy said.
Coast Guard guidelines call for no more than one tow
at a time passing the barrier. Mooring no longer is allowed
near the barrier, Moy said.
Conlin said Asian carp are not any closer to the barrier
than they were in 2002.
Pictures of fishermen holding carp supposedly taken closer
to the barrier could not be substantiated, and Moy said
a dead carp found a mile and a half below the barrier
probably rode on the deck of a barge before it fell off.
No other carp were found in the area, despite intensive
"It's good news that they aren't any further north,"
Conlin said. "But the big concentration is being
held back at the Starved Rock Lock and Dam."
"They have to lock through to move" past Starved
Rock, Conlin said. "That has really slowed them down,
"They certainly do occur above Starved Rock, but
not nearly at the density they do below the dam,"
he said. "We've bought some time here."
Biologists believe Asian bighead and silver carp outweigh
all other fish in the Illinois River.
Conlin said Illinois, in cooperation with other Great
Lakes states, is pushing hard for federal help in operating
the new barrier.
"It is too important not to be resolved," he
But Moy said he fears Illinois will be on the hook for
the barrier's operation at least through the end of 2006.
"It's kind of amazing," Moy said. "You
have an environmental project with these implications
that basically has to beg and borrow funds every year."
Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or firstname.lastname@example.org.