Write to Washington: Asian Carp

January 9, 2012

I wrote to my congressman and got this interesting letter back.
Dear Mrs. Spring:
     Thank you for contacting me about Asian carp.  I appreciate hearing your views on this important matter.
     I have long been concerned about the threat posed to the Great Lakes by invasive species, including Asian carp.  These species are introduced from other ecosystems and often encounter few, if any, natural enemies in their new environments and, therefore, can wreak havoc on native species.
In an effort to address this issue, I cosponsored the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-332).  This law authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to build a dispersal barrier (Barrier I) in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) to stop invasive species from entering Lake Michigan.  As co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I, along with the other members of the Task Force, have repeatedly sought and have been successful in securing authorizing language and funding for the Army Corps to complete and enhance the three electrical dispersal barriers in the CSSC.  Most recently, at the urging of Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and myself, the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to enhance the protections of the electric barriers at the CSSC by modifying some of the operating parameters, including increasing the barrier voltage by 15 percent this fall.
Congress provided $12,650,000 for the electric dispersal barriers in FY2011.  The Senate Committee-approved FY2012 Appropriations bill is consistent with the president’s request and includes $24,065,000 for these electric barriers.  The House-passed FY2012 appropriations bill includes $21,805,000 for the barrier project.
Some have suggested that a hydraulic, or physical, separation of the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes Basin, which also maintained commercial and recreational transport on these waterways, could serve as a long-term solution to the threat of the Asian carp getting to the Great Lakes.  At my request, the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 included a provision that authorized the Army Corps to study how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basins through the CSSC and other aquatic pathways.  This study, known as the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS), includes an analysis of the hydraulic separation of the basins.  Congress provided $750,000 for the GLMRIS study in FY2011.  The FY2012 Senate Committee-approved appropriations bill included $3,000,000 for the GLMRIS and the House-approved appropriations bill included $3,000,000.
I have supported an expedited analysis of the separation option and have urged the Corps to move forward with the analysis.   On March 3, 2011, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the Stop Asian Carp Act (S.471).  This legislation, which I have co-sponsored, would require the physical separation analysis to be completed in 18 months rather than the current expected date of completion in 2015.
In addition to preventing Asian carp from moving from the Mississippi River Basin to the Great Lakes, it is important to do what we can to keep carp from entering the lakes through other means, such as importation.  I introduced the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act (S.1421), which was signed into law by the president on December 14, 2010.  This law places the bighead carp on the list of injurious species under the Lacey Act.  Such a listing prevents the importation and interstate commerce of live Bighead carp without a permit, and as a result, lowers the risk of an introduction of this species in the Great Lakes.  We have already invested over $40 million on the construction and operation of the electric dispersal barriers, on Asian carp monitoring, and on studies. It would undermine these efforts to allow live Asian carp to be introduced into the Great Lakes because we did not do everything in our power to block other pathways of introduction into the Lakes.
     The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s freshwater, supply drinking water to tens of millions people, and support a $7 billion fishing industry.  We owe it to current and future generations to preserve this immensely important natural resource.
Carl Levin

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