Feds say invasive species can move between Great Lakes, Mississippi River system at numerous sites

Federal officials painted a sobering picture Tuesday of the many ways that Asian carp and other invasive species living in the Mississippi River basin could spread to the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified 18 sites in the Midwest where some 160 different aquatic invasive species could move between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds.

The Corps revealed those findings during a public hearing in Buffalo on its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, known as GLMRIS.

The $25 million GLMRIS study is the Corps’ attempt to figure out how best to halt the movement of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, which encompass two of North America’s largest watersheds. The spread of Asian carp spurred the study.

Asian carp were imported to commercial fish farms in the south in the 1960s. After escaping into the Mississippi River, the fish headed north and are now on the verge of invading Lake Michigan via the Chicago Waterway System, an artificial canal system that links the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Studies have shown that Asian carp also could enter the Great Lakes via rivers in Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and New York.

The most likely places Asian carp will invade the Great Lakes: The Chicago Waterway System and a marsh near Fort Wayne, Ind., that links the carp-infested Wabash River to the Maumee River during floods.

National Wildlife Federation and other groups have called on the Corps of Engineers to create a hydrologic barrier between Lake Michigan and the Chicago Waterway System to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan. NWF also wants the Corps to complete the Chicago portion of the GLMRIS study within 18 months.

“This is just crazy to take so long,” said Mary Muter, a member of Sierra Club’s Ontario chapter who was at the hearing in Buffalo. “The solution is hydrologic and ecological separation in Chicago and they should be moving very quickly to getting that job done.”

Corps officials said completing the study in 2015 is the best-case scenario; it could take longer.

“For a study of this magnitude, our schedule is rather aggressive,” said Lt. Col. David J. Berczek, deputy commander of the Corps’ Chicago district office.

Berczek’s comments came hours after the Great Lakes Commission and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Cities Initiative announced it was launching a privately funded, $2 million study of how best to create a hydrologic barrier between Lake Michigan and the Chicago Waterway System.

The Great Lakes Commission study will recommend possible solutions in January 2012, at least three years before the Corps makes its recommendations to Congress.

Representatives of National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates will be at all of the GLMRIS hearings. Watch for more blog posts from upcoming hearings in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Mississippi.

Go here to see what Great Lakes leaders are saying about Asian carp and the Corps’ study.