The silver carp and the bighead carp are two species of "Asian carp" that escaped from Arkansas fish farms in the 1970s. They grow up to be up to four feet long and weight as much as one hundred pounds. Schools of these alien invaders have been slowly making their way up through U.S. rivers towards the Great Lakes ever since. Along the way, these fish have pretty much taken over most of the rivers in Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed a three-barrier system to keep the carp from making it to Lake Michigan. Barrier 1, the oldest, is a 1 volt per square inch shocker that doesn't quite deliver enough of a punch to keep back the fish. Barrier 2A came online earlier this year and delivers a 2 volt per square inch shock. Barrier 2B will not be operational for at least another year. Unfortunately for the Great Lakes (fortunately for the carp), Barrier 2A needs to come offline for maintenance. When it does, the Asian Carp have a straight-shot to the Great Lakes.
U.S. officials devised a backup plan - poison the river with rotenone. The idea was that the chemical would keep the fish at bay while the electric barrier is offline. Then, two weeks ago, testing in the river revealed that the Asian Carp may have already made it passed the barrier. DNA test suggested that the fish were present in the water, though no fish themselves were found. At a press conference on November 20, U.S. officials urged caution while simultaneously painting a pretty bleak picture of the Great Lakes post-carp infestation.
The impacts of the Asian Carp on the Great Lakes are described in a ten Waterkeeper organizations wrote to the different Great Lakes Governors in November, 2009. These Waterkeeper organizations called upon leaders to declare a federal state of emergency to disconnect the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal from the Great Lakes. This controversial canal is a man-made diversion of Great Lakes water out of Lake Michigan and into the Mississippi River basin. The so-called "Chicago Diversion" is the Asian Carp's gateway to the Great Lakes. The Waterkeeper groups also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Chicago Diversion, which has been a source of conflict for more than a century.
At dusk this evening (December 2, 2009) the first dose of the poison rotenone will be poured into the canal in Chicago. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is also pushing to have the locks closed while the electric barrier is down for maintenance. The process is expected to last at least four days.
This week on Living at the Barricades: We focus on the potential invasion of the Asian Carp. How it happened. Why it's scary. And what's to be done. Georgian Baykeeper Mary Muter joins co-hosts Mark Mattson and Krystyn Tully on this episode, which also features clips from U.S. officials speaking at a press conference on November 20, 2009.
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