Feds ignoring demands for faster action on Asian carp

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently turned on a third electric barrier that is supposed to keep Asian carp in the Chicago Waterway System from invading Lake Michigan.

The announcement was the Corps’ latest attempt to assure the public that the federal government has the Asian carp crisis under control.

What I found most interesting about the April 7 announcement was that it came one week after the Corps stopped taking public comment on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, known as GLMRIS. That $25 million study is supposed to provide a blueprint for keeping Asian carp in the Mississippi River system from invading the Great Lakes, where the foreign fish could decimate a $7 billion fishery and disrupt the region’s $16 billion recreational boating economy.

The problem is that the GLMRIS study won’t be completed until 2015 at the earliest. Asian carp could invade the Great Lakes long before then.

Studies have already found that the electric barrier in the Chicago Waterway System doesn’t stop all sizes of Asian carp. Worse, scientists have discovered Asian carp DNA beyond the electric barrier, in waters linked directly to Lake Michigan.

Earlier this year, the Corps held a series of public hearings around the region to gather input on the GLMRIS study.

Hundreds of people from across the region — boaters, anglers, conservationists and people who simply treasure the Great Lakes — spoke with one voice to the Corps. Their message: Speed up the GLMRIS study; focus exclusively on preventing an Asian carp invasion (instead of reducing the risk, as the Corps is wont to do); and work toward separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

More than 4,000 people submitted comments on the GLMRIS study via National Wildlife Federation Action Fund.

But the Corps has, thus far, turned a deaf ear to the public’s call to faster action. Officials with the Corps have repeatedly said that they take their orders from Congress, not special interest groups or the public.

If the Corps won’t speed up the GLMRIS study, perhaps voters should exert pressure on Congress to make it happen.

A bill pending in Congress, the Stop Asian Carp Act of 2011, would force the Corps to complete the GLMRIS study within 18 months.  The bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan; Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois; and Congressman Dave Camp, of Michigan.

Go here to find out if your representatives in Congress support the Stop Asian Carp Act.

We can’t afford to wait until 2015 for the Corps to figure out how to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes. This is a looming, albeit preventable, disaster. But time is not on our side.