Only viable solution is to physically separate Great Lakes, Mississippi River basins
Conservation groups are urging the Obama Administration and U.S. Congress to maintain their focus on a permanent, long-term solution to an invasive species crisis that is putting communities, businesses, and industry at risk. The groups submitted comments yesterday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to the agency’s congressionally mandated study outlining ways to prevent the transfer of invasive organisms between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. Waterways in Chicago, built more than 100 years ago, artificially connect the two water bodies, opening both to destruction from aquatic invasive species like Asian carp.
The Army Corps study—known as the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study—clearly identifies physically separating the two iconic waters as the most effective way to prevent the spread of various invasive fish, parasites, grasses, and other organisms. And in their comments submitted yesterday, conservation advocates are urging public officials to take immediate risk reduction steps and swiftly identify a permanent solution to achieve physical separation.
Groups made the following main points in their comments to the Army Corps:
1. The Army Corps study clearly identifies physical separation as the most effective, permanent long-term solution. The Army Corps, public officials and other stakeholders need to quickly identify—and start moving forward on—a permanent solution that separates the water bodies. At the same time, short-term actions need to focus on strategic, efficient and effective ways to reduce the risk of invasive species spreading to new waterways.
2. The Army Corps study lacks an effective near-term strategy for keeping out unwanted aquatic invaders. It is essential that state, regional and national partners analyze and put in place as quickly as possible an effective near-term strategy to reduce the risk of new invasions, while the nation moves toward the long-term goal of physically separating the two water bodies.
3. The Army Corps study only tallies the cost of separation and fails to assess the immense benefits to the region. If done right, hydrologic separation will leverage viable, well- planned investments to establish upgraded treatment of wastewater and storm water, as well as potentially new, globally-competitive transportation infrastructure. The result can be a revitalized waterway system that not only closes the highway for aquatic nuisance species, but also creates local and regional jobs, introduces economic efficiencies across the region, and improves water quality, tourism, and recreation.
4. By coupling the invasive species threat with elaborate water quality and flooding technologies, the Army Corps plan creates an untenable timeline and cost. Water quality and flood management issues are important and are being addressed. Numerous projects are underway and far more are needed to shore up Chicago’s crumbling water infrastructure system, which is tied to the waterways used by invasive species to move between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River system. Addressing these threats in combination will bring needed resources and deeper thinking to both. But the Army Corps’ report brings dubious assumptions and an all-or-nothing mindset with no interim steps or solutions, making actual progress on these vexing issues more difficult.
5. The Army Corps study, despite its shortcomings, provides a clear direction to establish a national strategy and implementation plan to move quickly toward separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. However, preventing further movement of invasive species between the basins is a shared responsibility. Separation, as well as interim risk reduction measures, must be the product of a robust partnership of local, state and federal agencies across the region.
Read the full comments here.
Commenting on the Army Corps study, conservation leaders said:
“With the conclusion of the Corps’ study process, regional political leaders must seize on the opportunity to implement immediate risk reduction measures that move us toward permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins,” said Jared Teutsch, Alliance for the Great Lakes water policy advocate. “Or, we risk losing vital momentum in the effort to rectify, once and for all, the problems created by this un-natural connection.”
“Though Asian carp have captured headlines, there are 10 other species threatening to transfer from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi River basin,” said Robert Hirschfeld water policy specialist, Prairie Rivers Network. “Any real solution must prevent all aquatic nuisance species from moving in both directions. The good news is we can do this while providing communities with cleaner water and healthier, restored rivers.
“Charter fisherman, groups, businesses and a chamber of commerce from both sides of the boarder united to submit comments urging the Corps to move forward with the strongest option identified in their report,” said Cheryl Kallio, associate director for Freshwater Future. “Our entire Great Lakes watershed will be impacted by what does or doesn’t happen here.”
“The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are internationally indispensable,” said Lee Willbanks, Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper. “Those of us who live, work, and play on the St. Lawrence River believe it must be protected by returning the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River to their natural and separated state.”
“Ohio is investing considerable resources to permanently separate connections between Lake Erie and the Ohio River basin,” said Kristy Meyer, managing director of agricultural, health & clean water programs at the Ohio Environmental Council. “We cannot afford to close the back door in Ohio, while allowing these destructive invaders to swim right through the front door in Chicago. Congress needs to quickly direct the Corps to separate the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”
“The Army Corps report underscores that the most effective solution to the invasive species crisis is by physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation. “The nation needs to act now to implement an effective near-term strategy to prevent future invasions, while keeping our eyes on the prize of separating these two iconic waters to protect our wildlife, economy, and quality of life.”
“We hope that these comments will engage regional stakeholders and call on leaders to begin discussing separation solutions that pay huge dividends for the Chicago region,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter. “We need to move forward on interim and long-term solutions that improve upon the options presented in the report and envision a cleaner Chicago River, flood mitigation, all while providing prevention of aquatic invasive transfer.”
“The Corps’ report makes it clear that separation is not just do-able, but the only option,” said Henry Henderson, Midwest director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Now it will be incumbent for us in the Great Lakes region to find a workable, reality-based system that keeps invasive species like Asian carp at bay in coordination with efforts to shore up the failing infrastructure they threaten to pass through. This is a real opportunity for the entire region in terms of resources and an opportunity to rethink a snarled system that pollutes the Great Lakes, floods Chicago basements and limits the movement of goods.”
“Preventing future invasions is essential to protect and restore the Great Lakes,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “The Army Corps study makes it abundantly clear that the most effective way to prevent future invasions is to build a physical barrier. The onus is now on public officials to advance solutions as quickly as possible that help us achieve that goal. The cost of inaction will be devastating to the Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them.”
The comments were submitted on behalf of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, American Rivers, Clean Water Action – Minnesota, Clean Wisconsin, Committee on the Middle Fork Vermilion River, FLOW, Freshwater Future, Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition, Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, Hoosier Environmental Council, Izaak Walton League of America – Great Lakes Committee, Izaak Walton League of America – Dwight Lydell Chapter, Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Milwaukee River Keeper, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Abounds, Ohio Environmental Council, Prairie Rivers Network, Religious Coalition for the Great Lakes, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Save The River, Sierra Club – Great Lakes Program, Sierra Club – Illinois Chapter, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Sierra Club – Missouri Chapter, Sierra Club – Ohio Chapter, and the St. Louis River Alliance.