New Study: We Can Stop Asian Carp, Protect Great Lakes—and not Break the Bank

Doable, affordable: Conceptual rendering of Asian carp barrier on the Calumet River. Photo/ Great Lakes Commission

This just in: We have a solution to stop Asian carp for a price that will not break the bank.

A new study, released today by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, lays out solutions to stop invasive species like the Asian carp from using man-made canals connecting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River from spreading throughout U.S. waters, where they inflict damage on the environment and economy.

The report offers three different scenarios to sever the man-made connection between the two iconic waters by building a barrier (or barriers). The cost: between $3 billion and $9.5 billion.

Commenting on the report, here’s what the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition’s Jeff Skelding had to say:

“The study has the potential to be a game-changer in the effort to restore and protect the Great Lakes. It proves that we have affordable solutions to the Asian carp crisis that benefit both our environment and economy. This report should put an end to excuse-making and food-dragging and light a fire under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do its job so that the nation can move forward on a solution to protect the Great Lakes and the jobs which depend on them.”

The study underscores three things:

1. We can do this. The study lays out in black and white that we have the technology to block the spread of harmful aquatic invasive species. As Tim Eder of the Great Lakes Commission, explained on a Michigan Public Radio report, it’s like building an earthen dam to sever the artificial connection. The solutions outlined in the report are more than feasible, they are eminently doable. Look at the above artist rendering from the summary report issued today. Anyone familiar with modern ports will see that we can do this. Today.

2. We can afford this. The price tag will attract attention, and it should. Costs ranging from $3 billion to $9.5 billion are not cheap—but they’re not exorbitant either. In fact, I see it as a bargain for several reasons.

First, the Great Lakes are worth that—and so much more. The investment will go to protect a global resource that supplies drinking water to more than 30 million people. More than 1.5 million people depend on it for their jobs—worth more than $60 billion in wages annually. The sport fishing industry alone is valued at $7 billion per year. Recreational boating is valued at $16 billion. To be sure the Asian carp and other species don’t threaten all of that—but no one can argue that the non-native fish don’t present a clear a present danger to both the environment and economy.

Second, those costs are in-line with what cities need to do to maintain infrastructure and keep their cities functioning. Maintaining roads, bridges and sewers costs money. Midwestern cities such as Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee have multi-year, multi-billion plans to upgrade their sewers. The carp barrier can be viewed as a regional infrastructure investment that will benefit citizens in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. In fact:

Third, the whole region benefits from stopping the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species. The region’s citizens, cities and businesses have paid a steep price for invasive species (see below). Similarly, the entire region will benefit from preventing further invasions. The study estimates that the region will save between $1.4 billion and $9 billion by erecting the barriers.

Fourth, if we don’t pay now, we’re going to pay a lot more later. Invasive species are living, breathing biological pollution. Once they take hold, they’re impossible to eradicate—as are their damages. Invasive species introduced via ballast water cost Great Lakes citizens, utilities and cities at least $200 million per year. What’s more, it costs roughly $20 million to manage the invasive sea lamprey. (If you want to see an ecosystem turned on its head by invasive species, see reports by Washington Post and BBC on impacts from the Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades National Park.)
It’s clear that if we don’t take action now, the problem will only get worse and more costly. Or, as Dave Ullrich of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative told the Associated Press: “Yes, it’s expensive. But the cost of doing nothing is greater.”

3. We need to move faster towards a solution. The Asian carp crisis has been brewing for years, yet federal action to solve the problem has moved at a snail’s pace. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with offering its own study of options to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. It has dragged its feet since 2007—and claims, incredibly—that it won’t complete its own study until 2015 at the earliest.

That’s not acceptable. The U.S. Army Corps needs to expedite its study—and incorporate the findings of the new study.

Congress can help advance solutions to this problem in two ways:

1. Maintain strong support for interim measures. The Great Lakes congressional delegation needs to support policy action and necessary funding to support an aggressive, strategic short-term plan to beat back the Asian carp until a long-term solution can be implemented. It’s going to take years to solve this problem. The Great Lakes congressional delegation needs to remain united and vigilant so that we can buy time for a permanent solution.

2. Pass the Stop Asian Carp Act. The act mandates the U.S. Army Corps to complete its study by 2013 so that the nation can move forward on a solution that protect the Great Lakes and the millions of people which rely on them for their drinking water, jobs and way of life.

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