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 Conservation organizations are urging the federal government to take emergency action to prevent one of the most notorious invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and wreaking havoc on the world’s largest surface fresh-water resource. 

As invasive Asian carp bear down on the electrical barrier operating in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) in Illinois, environmental and conservation groups are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take emergency action to stop the threat now and to look at the separation of the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes as a permanent solution.

The carp have been discovered in waterways less than 100 feet from the CSSC, and could bypass the barrier completely if a heavy rain floods the Des Plaines River and causes it to spill into the canal.

 “There is an urgent threat of Asian carp entering Lake Michigan if the nearby waterways flood into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal,” says Joel Brammeier, acting president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “We are just one heavy rain away from this emergency becoming an epidemic.”

 In addition to the Des Plaines River, which in some places is only yards away from the CSSC, the carp could also enter another adjacent canal, the Illinois & Michigan (I&M), which is connected to the CSSC by small culverts that the carp can swim through during heavy rains. 

 “This is an emergency and we are down to sandbags and mortar,” says Jennifer Nalbone, Campaign Director of Invasive Species and Navigation for Great Lakes United “Barriers must be built between these nearby waterways and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to ensure that during a fall flood live carp cannot be carried into the CSSC past the electrical barrier.”

 The Asian carp are invasive fish that are harming the environment and economies of the Mississippi and threaten to do the same to the Great Lakes. The fish consume enormous amount of food that other fish rely on, allowing the carp to muscle out native species. The fish can grow to up to 3 feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds, quickly dominating a water body due to their size.  The fish also pose a risk to people: the silver carp are easily startled and often jump out of the water when startled, making them a hazard to boaters, anglers and water-skiers. 

 The CSSC is a manmade waterway that connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River basin. Originally intended as a means for the city of Chicago to overcome sewage problems in the early 20th century, it created an artificial connection through which aquatic invasive species can pass in both directions. The electric barrier is located near Romeoville, Illinois on the CSSC. A new DNA monitoring technique being used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the University of Notre Dame, found that invasive Asian carp are a mere mile from the electric barrier in the CSSC.

 “We are down to the wire, and Congress needs to ensure that the Corps acts, and fast,” says Emily Green Executive Director of the Sierra Club- Great Lakes Program. “The carp are not abiding by DC’s slow timetable. The Corps needs to start emergency actions now.”

 The groups are calling on the U.S. government to:

  • Build an emergency barrier (like sandbags) between the Des Plaines and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to ensure the Des Plaines River and live carp cannot flood into the CSSC past the electrical barrier.
  • Install a barrier (such as a bubble/acoustic barrier) to stop the carp from migrating upstream into the Des Plaines River.
  • Fill in critical sections of the I&M Canal so that carp cannot swim into the CSSC during floods.

 “Failure to confront the threat of the Asian carp is in invitation for disaster and threatens to undermine the progress the nation is making to restore the Great Lakes and revive the economy through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” says Jeff Skelding, Campaign Director for the Healing Our Waters Coalition. “Congressional action is needed now to protect our Great Lakes, public health, economy and way of life.”

For a map illustrating the location of the barriers and how flooding could allow the fish to bypass them, visit www.glu.org.