Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Study Shows Alternatives To Separate Mississippi & Great Lakes

Jan 30: A report released by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative identifies strategies for restoring the natural divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes -- and, in the process, modernizing the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS). Tim Eder, GLC executive director said, "Physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds is the best long-term solution for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species, and our report demonstrates that it can be done."

    The threat of Asian carp looms large for communities in the Great Lakes region. The lakes provide over 35 million residents with drinking water, contain 20 percent of the Earth's fresh surface water, and support a thriving tourism industry and world-class fishery, which generates an estimated $7 billion in economic activity annually. Voracious feeders that can grow up to 90 pounds, Asian carp have overrun other ecosystems and could cause irreversible damage to the Great Lakes if allowed entry. Once established, invasive species are nearly impossible to eliminate.

    David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said, "This is a unique opportunity for both protection of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River and for a Chicago waterway system for the 21st century and beyond. No single use of the CAWS, including transportation, flood control and wastewater treatment, can be considered individually. The system requires an integrated approach and that is what we have taken."

    The report identifies three separation alternatives including: (1) a down-river single barrier between the confluence of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel and the Lockport Lock; (2) a mid-system alternative of four barriers on CAWS branches between Lockport and Lake Michigan; and (3) a near-lake alternative of up to five barriers closest to the lakeshore. All three include measures to improve the CAWS's role in flood management, wastewater treatment and maritime transportation, as well as stopping the interbasin movement of aquatic invasive species.

    The three separation alternatives in the report were developed by the engineering firm HDR, Inc., which considered some 20 possible barrier locations in its analysis. No recommended alternative is identified. However, one alternative, the mid-system solution, is the least costly and offers other advantages. The analysis concludes that preventing just a single invasive species from entering the Great Lakes can save as much as $5 billion over 30 years. The Corps of Engineers has identified 10 species that are poised to invade the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River.

    According to the report's economic analysis, the cost of the barriers themselves is as low as $109 million. The addition of all improvements to address water quality, flood prevention and transportation brings the cost to between $3.2 billion and $9.5 billion, depending on the location and the degree to which the wastewater treatment plants on the system are improved to meet future Clean Water Act requirements. The analysis also finds that households in the Great Lakes basin would have to be willing to pay, on average, about $1 a month from now through 2059 to cover the cost of the mid-system alternative, based on a projected cost of $4.27 billion. 

Asian carp have been migrating up the Mississippi River system since the early 1990s and were detected in 2009 to have breached electronic barriers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the CAWS. In 2010 a live Asian carp was captured in Lake Calumet just six miles from Lake Michigan.

    The GLC, representing the eight Great Lakes states plus the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Qu├ębec, and the Cities Initiative, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors, embarked on the accelerated study in 2010 believing separation to be the best strategy for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species between the two watersheds via the CAWS. The $2 million project was funded by a collaboration of six regional funders: the Joyce Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, Wege Foundation, Great Lakes Protection Fund and Frey Foundation.

    A number of groups with Great Lakes interest, issued a joint release commending the authors' factual analysis concluding that separation is possible and that it must include essential upgrades to sewage, flood control and waterborne transportation while preventing the transfer of invasive species. The groups included: Alliance for the Great Lakes; Clean Water Action Minnesota; Freshwater Future; Great Lakes United; Healing Our Waters–Great Lakes Coalition;  National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Defense Council; Sierra Club-Ontario; and Ohio Environmental Council.

    Access a release from GLC (click here). Access the report and all supporting materials (click here). Access a release from the supporting groups (click here).

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IJC's New Approach To Manage Water Levels & Flows

Jan 30: The International Joint Commission (IJC) released information about a new approach to manage water levels and flows in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River system. According to a release, following a five-year binational study and extensive public comment, the IJC is developing a new approach with the assistance of a Working Group of representatives from the governments of Canada, the United States, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and the State of New York.

    The flow of water from Lake Ontario down the St. Lawrence River is regulated by the Moses-Saunders Dam in accordance with the IJC's 1956 order of approval. The current regulation plan moderates extreme high and low water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. However, it is based on conditions of the last century, does not take the environment into account, and has no process for adapting to future challenges such as bigger storms and more severe droughts. While continuing to moderate extreme high and low water levels, the new approach would allow for more natural water levels and flow patterns and is expected to produce significant environmental improvements. An Adaptive Management strategy would improve the capability to adapt to future changes, including socio-economic changes and significant changes in climate throughout the system.

    The IJC welcomes public input on the new approach and will host online forums and public information sessions around the basin in late spring 2012. Written comments on the new approach may be submitted via the LOSLR website or sent by regular mail or email.

    The organizations Save The River, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund – Canada (WWF–Canada) issued a joint release offering their organizations' support for IJC's new approach to water level regulation in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The three organizations are encouraged by the proposal, known as Plan BV7 which they said, "if appropriately implemented, will take steps to restore the lake and river after 60 years of environmentally damaging regulation."

    Access a release from IJC with commenting instructions (click here). Access complete details of the approach (click here). Access a release from the organizations supporting Plan BV7 (click here). Access more information on the Plan from Save The River (click here).

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