There is a man-made canal that connects the Mississippi River system with the Great Lakes. The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal makes shipping cargo between the waterways possible. It also makes it possible for invasive pests in the water to invade both systems. The big concern right now is a big, nasty group of fish known as Asian Carp that's already invaded the Mississippi and some of its tributaries. An electric barrier has been built in the canal to try to stop the fish from getting into the Great Lakes. Lester Graham talked with Jennifer Nalbone about the problem. She's the Director of Navigation and Invasive Species with the environmental group Great Lakes United:
Jennifer Nalbone: They are just incredible eaters, and they get as big as 3 to 4 feet, 80 to100 pounds when mature. And they are just prolific. Some species, the females can produce over 1 million eggs in their lifetime. So the fear is, like they’ve done in the Mississippi River Basin, they’ll get so big, they’ll have no predators, they’ll eat so much food, and there’ll be so many that they’ll basically take over the ecosystem. In some areas, where they’ve invaded, upwards of 90% of the river’s biomass is carp.
Lester Graham: You’ve probably seen this fish on videos or something like that – they’re the ones that as a boat passes by, they’ll jump out of the river, and sometimes even hit the boaters.
Nalbone: I admit, the first time I saw a video of the jumping silver carp, I was so startled I laughed at it. But there’s nothing funny about 50, 60, 70 pounds of fish flying at you when you’re going 20 miles an hour. It could kill someone.
Graham: Now, there’s this electric barrier in place that actually shocks the water so the fish is discouraged from coming into the area. But now there’s concern that the fish has invaded a nearby river, the Des Planes River, that’s very close to this canal. So, why’s that a problem?
Nalbone: Our concern is with flooding. Just last year, we saw major floodwaters in the Des Plaines River, where floodwaters connected the Des Plaines and the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal in streams of water several feet deep. And carp could be carried into the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal in those floodwaters.
Graham: So, what are you proposing? How could we stop the fish from going any further?
Nalbone: Well, the long-term solution is hydrologic separation of the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin. Army Corps of Engineers has been authorized to study that problem, but that’s a multi-year project. Right now, what we’re concerned about are floodwaters this fall. We are pressing that the Army Corps of Engineers put in place sandbags or berms in the low points between the Des Plaines and the Canal. And also fill in some of the culverts in the IMN Canal that connect to the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal.
Graham: Now, I’ve watched this situation for years – long before the Asian Carp invaded the Mississippi River system – and I’m wondering, even if further millions of dollars are spent, to try to put up barricades or stop this fish, whether it’s simply inevitable that this fish will get into the Great Lakes.
Nalbone: Well, this is a battle against time right now. If we can block the future floodwaters from the Des Plaines – which is probably our biggest hole in our defense right now – and plug the culverts in the IMN, we can buy ourselves some good time. But we won’t be out of the woods until we separate the Mississippi and the Great Lakes Basin. But we can’t let this invasion happen. It would be, perhaps, the greatest anticipated ecological tragedy of our time. So, I don’t think that inevitable is an option. We have to get it done.
Graham: Jennifer Nalbone is with the group Great Lakes United. Thanks, Jennifer.
Nalbone: Thank you, Lester.
Listen here: http://www.environmentreport.org/show.php?showID=279