Members of Congress on Friday called for strengthening defenses on a river about 40 miles from Chicago as a temporary step toward preventing aggressive Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes and depleting their prized fish stocks.
Under bills introduced in the House and Senate, federal agencies would be ordered to focus interim efforts on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Illinois, while the debate continues over how to permanently halt aquatic species from moving between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems.
"After years of study, we must begin making tangible progress to safeguard the Great Lakes ecosystem and the $7 billion economy it supports," said Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican and bill sponsor. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, introduced the measure in the Senate.
The Brandon Road site is about 5 miles downstream from electric barriers in a shipping canal that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now depends on to prevent the two aggressive carp species from reaching Lake Michigan, where scientists say they could starve out native fish and eventually spread to the other Great Lakes.
Supporters of the legislation describe Brandon Road as a "choke point" where the carp's path could be blocked. The corps said last month that it would consider adding electric barriers to the site's lock and dam complex and testing new technologies there, such as special gates or air cannons.
It also could be the location of a new type of lock where treated water would be used to cleanse vessels of floating plants, spores and fish eggs.
The Great Lakes Commission, which represents the eight states and two Canadian provinces that surround the lakes, endorsed the bills and said the proposed changes would not hamper barge and recreational boat traffic on the busy waterway.
"This is important work that will develop solutions that can be applied elsewhere in the Chicago waterway system — and throughout the Great Lakes and the nation as a whole — to prevent damaging aquatic species from expanding into other water bodies," said Jon Allan, the commission's vice chairman and director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes.
The bills also would require a stepped-up search for a permanent solution, an issue that has divided the region. Most of the states favor using dams or other structures to wall off the Great Lakes from the Mississippi drainage basin. Illinois and Indiana contend that would damage the local economies and cause flooding.
The proposed legislation would direct a federal task force led by the Environmental Protection Agency to work with state and local governments on water quality and flood-control projects that a permanent fix would require.
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