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Great Lakes Article:

Hook, Line & Sinker: Electric barrier won't end threat of Asian carp
Published January 20th, 2005

The relatively mild early winter helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stay on track to complete a permanent electric fish barrier on the Illinois River to prevent Asian carp from infesting the Great Lakes.

But, officials say the barrier won't end the threat to the Great Lakes sports fishery posed by the exotic carp species that grow to be nearly 100 pounds.

Once the barrier is complete sometime this summer, corps engineers must confront the possibility high water on the Des Plaines River near Lemont where the barrier is being built could create a watery passage to allow carp into the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal and into Lake Michigan.

"There is a small possibility that if it floods, there would be a hydraulic link," said Chuck Shea, barrier project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "But, we have to focus on cutting off the much more direct connection by finishing the permanent barrier."

After the permanent barrier goes on-line, Shea said the corps will launch a study to identify low points where a water bridge would appear during floods. It doesn't happen often. But, it does happen. The last known link that would have bypassed the location of the permanent barrier occurred in 1996 during what was considered a 100-year flood, he said.

High water in early January failed to create a water bridge between the Des Plaines and the sanitary channel, he said.

The permanent barrier is being built at a price tag of $9 million raised from the federal government and the states bordering the Great Lakes. Officials in Illinois, a chief contributor, are coordinating fund-raising efforts with other states, Shea said. More money is needed to complete the project on time.

But, the cost will be small compared to the economic disaster that might occur to the Great Lakes sport fishery if even one egg-laden Asian carp makes it to Lake Michigan.

Asian carp were brought to the United States by aqua farmers to raise for food. But, flooding on the Mississippi River reached the ponds where the fish were kept. They were released into the Mississippi River where they began multiplying and swimming upstream. They are plentiful in the Illinois River as far north as Starved Rock State Park in Utica. They also have reached Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Asian carp eat plankton, the base of the food chain for all young fish and small forage fish on which game species depend. Their long-term impact on game fish populations is unknown.

The permanent structure will replace a temporary one that went on-line in April, 2002. Its projected life span is three to five years. After that time, engineers expect problems that could lead to its failure, Shea said.

The immediacy of the threat was driven home when an Asian carp was found dead downstream from the temporary barrier not long ago.

Minnesota officials are talking about erecting a barrier on the Mississippi River in their state.

Stay tuned.

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