Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Report Looks At "Ecological Separation" Of Great Lakes & Mississippi

Nov 12: The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust (GLFT) announced the release of a three-year study by the Alliance for the Great Lakes (Alliance) that takes a first look at stopping the transfer of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems. While an electrical dispersal barrier currently provides some control on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal, long term solutions are needed to further reduce the risk of invasions.

The report -- Preliminary Feasibility of Ecological Separation of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes -- co-funded by the Fishery Trust and the Fishery Commission, is the first systematic look at commercial and recreational traffic on the waterway and at potential, long term solutions to prevent biological transfers. The study was funded pursuant to a recommendation from an Invasive Species Summit meeting convened in 2003 by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley that called for a project to examine long-term solutions to reduce the risk of invasive species in the waterway.

According to a release from GLFC and GLFT, the Chicago Waterway System, a series of canals built in the 1800s that famously “reversed the flow” of the Chicago River to improve sanitation, artificially connects the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The waterway serves as a transportation corridor and provides access for recreational boaters. The connection, however, also is a conduit for invasive species, with zebra mussels and round gobies moving from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi basin and with Asian carp currently threatening to enter the Great Lakes from the Mississippi. With increasing global trade, the threat of invasive species is only expected to grow.

Rebecca Humphries, Chair of GLFT and Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) said, “Invasive species continue to pose one of the biggest threats to the future of the Great Lakes and the Chicago waterway is a direct link for species to enter Lake Michigan. This study helps establish a course to address this important link." GLFC Chair Michael Hansen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin -- Stevens Point said, “With the benefit of hindsight the Great Lakes and Mississippi systems should never have been connected in so direct a way. Our task now is to find permanent and effective solutions to the threat that this waterway poses. The commission calls upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider the Alliance’s recommendations and launch a full-scale study, with the ultimate goal of achieving long term separation between the two basins.”

According to a release from the Alliance leading Great Lakes advocates are calling for Federal leadership and funding for “ecological separation” of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin to protect both great watersheds from the perils of invasive species. Alliance VP for Policy Joel Brammeier, lead author of the report said, “The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River are at risk because of a connection that’s nothing natural. Fifteen miles of water and an experimental electric barrier are all that’s standing between the Great Lakes and Asian carp. We’ve got to get serious about a real solution.”

Herb Gray, Canadian Section chair of the International Joint Commission (IJC) said, "We must find a way to stop Asian Carp and other species before they use the Chicago Sanitary Canal to invade the entire Great Lakes system that is shared by Canada and the United States." A release from IJC indicates, "The IJC strongly supports the maintenance of the electric fish dispersal barrier and construction of a second electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, but recognizes the limitations of these measures. While not endorsing any specific long-term strategy, the IJC is impressed with the creative effort to engage as many stakeholders as possible and to carefully examine a range of actions to stop the movement of invasive species between the two watersheds while taking the economic and social dimensions into account."

Access a release from GLFC and GLFT (
click here). Access a release from the Alliance with links to related information (click here). Access a release from IJC (click here). Access an Executive Summary of the report (click here). Access the complete 112-page report (click here).