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Can Asian carp be kept out of Lake Michigan?

Kiowa pushes barge through canal with electric barrier.
Chuck Quirmbach, Wisconsin Public Radio
Kiowa pushes barge through canal with electric barrier.

Part 2 in a series about President Trump's budget

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget plan eliminatesa $300 million programto restore the Great Lakes. The plan is sparking concern among environmentalists, because a lot of that money is usedtoprotect the lakes from a voracious fish known as the Asian carp.Sounds from the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

 Some varieties -- likethe Bighead and Silver carp--grow toa fearsome100 pounds and eat their weight in plankton every day. That leaves much less food forotherfish.

And with invasiveAsiancarp spreading out in the United States,they’re commonin the Mississippi and Illinoisriversystems. That’s why the battleto control themis being fought near the southern tip ofLake Michigan. 

Kiowa pushes barge through canal with electric barrier.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach, Wisconsin Public Radio
Kiowa pushes barge through canal with electric barrier.

"We're the defensive line in preventing any future movement toward the lake of the fish," says ChuckShea   of the U.S.ArmyCorps of Engineers. He supervises a project that has already spent neatly $18 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for an underwater carp barrier.  The barrier isinthe Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canalnear Romeoville,Ill., about40 miles southwest of Chicago.  

New Michigan-based institute worries about impact of federal budget.

At the bottom of the canal, steel electrodes create a pulsing electric field to deter carp from entering. The Corps of Engineers is upgrading the original barrier, one of threeat the site.

Sheasays the workwillstrengthen the system."We've learned that the power levels that the demonstration barrier can operate at, limit its effectiveness. It's effective on larger fish, but it is not effective on smaller fish. So, by upgrading it, we can make it more effective on a wider range of fish."   Construction won't be affected by Trump's plan to eliminatethe $300 million in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But anotherhalf-million for a follow-up study is in doubt.  

That studywould look at waysto prevent Asian carp from being dragged or pushed through the barrier by barges.    

Likewise, other agencies that use federal fundingmight needto halt their work, or to look elsewhere for money. 

Silver carp
Credit U.S. Geological Survey
Silver carp

  "Great Lakes Restoration Initiative dollars are critical to the effort to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan," says Molly Flanagan of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.



"Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative goes to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, to help with their harvesting effort to reduce population and the pressure that fish experience to move closer to Lake Michigan,” she says. “Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative goes to agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service that are doing different studies to find out what technologies might be useful in the battle against Asian carp."  

And, Flanagan says, if the pot of money goes away, it would be tougher to get funding for stronger protections 20 miles downstream from the barrier, at theCorps of Engineers Brandon Road lock and dam. 

Lemon Trader at Brandon Road lock
Credit Chuck Quirmbach, Wisconsin Public Radio
Lemon Trader at Brandon Road lock

  Environmentalistswantmore safeguards at Brandon Road, which is about 10 miles from the leading edge of the Asian carp invasion.

But the Trump administration isdelaying therelease of a studyoncarp controloptions .    

That’sgood news to LynnMuench of the American WaterwaysOperators. The tug and barge trade group says additional structures at the lock could slow commerce.   

The groupsupportsfederal money forsome research and for harvesting carp from the Illinois River, but   Munch says other spending should get a close look. 

"That's why you make a budget,” she says. “You look ateverything andsee if the cost-benefit is there. I would say that's true of everything in the federal budget.''  

A bipartisan coalition in Congress backs the restoration initiative, soTrumpmay not be able to zero out the program. Congress can modify Trump's budget plan.

But environmentalists say a big reduction in spendingcould still hurtefforts to halt the Asian carp.

Chuck Quirmbach is a reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.

Coming in Part 3: Research for Ohio Sea Grant assesses the impact of toxic algae blooms -- a project endangered by Trump's budget cuts. 

Copyright 2017 Great Lakes Today

Chuck Quirmbach is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers developments and issues in Southeastern Wisconsin that are of statewide interest. He has numerous years of experience covering state government, elections, the environment, energy, racial diversity issues, clergy abuse claims and major baseball stadium doings. He enjoys covering all topics.
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