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Feds earmark $226 million for Great Lakes invasive carp project

Asian carp
A recent University of Michigan study on the harm Asian carp could do to the ecology of the Great Lakes lent urgency to plans to construct an effective barrier to carp entering the lakes. (Credit: Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee)

In a key step aimed at keeping invasive carp out of the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pegging $226 million for pre-construction, engineering and design on a lock-and-dam project 50 miles downstream of Chicago.

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“This is a historic step forward for this critically needed project to add a chain of smart technologies to the waterway that will stop invasive carp from reaching Lake Michigan,” Molly Flanagan, COO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a nonprofit environmental organization, said in a statement Wednesday praising the White House announcement, part of  $14 billion in planned spending by the Corps. 

[Disclosure: The Alliance is funded by numerous institutions including at least three that also help fund the work of Bridge Michigan: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Joyce Foundation and Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.]

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The Corps also included initial federal funds needed to begin construction at the completion of the project’s design and engineering work.

Adding urgency to the project, a 2019 University of Michigan study found that Asian carp could survive in much more of Lake Michigan than scientists previously believed. The findings ramped up pressure on Congress to fully fund a barrier to prevent the invasive fish from wreaking ecological havoc across the Great Lakes and threatening its $7 billion annual fishing industry.

Natives of China, silver and bighead carp have already spread across the Mississippi River Basin and into the Illinois River near Chicago. Some of the most destructive species to invade North American waters, they crowd out native fish by gobbling up their food, and can overconsume shoreline plants and degrade water quality.

According to the U-M study, the entire extent of Lake Michigan has habitat suitable for bighead carp somewhere in the varied depths of the lake.

Funds for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam project in Joliet, Ill., are coming from the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill signed into law in November.

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According to the Corps, the total cost of the project will be around $858 million, and is estimated to take six to eight years to complete. The project is slated to install acoustic fish deterrents, an air bubble curtain, an electric fish barrier and other provisions to keep the carp from reaching Lake Michigan and spreading throughout the Great Lakes.

Michigan has pledged $8 million toward early phase funding, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December joined seven other Great Lakes governors in calling for full federal backing of the project.

“The Great Lakes are the beating heart of Michigan’s economy, and we are taking action to put Michigan first and protect the Great Lakes,” Whitmer said in December.

“By funding the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, we can protect local economies and key, multi-billion-dollar industries that support tens of thousands of jobs including fishing and boating.”

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