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Great Lakes Article:

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 this spring.

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 Great Lakes.

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 Romeoville.

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 yet.

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 month.

"That's a pretty big chunk of change over the year," Moy said.

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 Barrier II."

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 searches.

"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, thank God.

"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 said.

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 chris.young@sj-r.com.

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