Asian carp advisory: closure of Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal Oct. 4-11

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

From Oct. 4 to 11, access to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) will be limited near Lemont, in the area where the electric fish barrier is located, announced the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee recently. Restrictions will be enacted to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install underwater structures to limit electric current from spreading in the waterway. While the Army Corps installs the structures near the barrier, part of the canal will be closed, likely from mile marker 296.1 to mile marker 296.7. The hours that the restrictions will be in effect are likely from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., CDT, from Oct. 4 to 11. Additional possible limitations would be implemented from Oct. 13 to 15 during the same hours, but only if work has not been completed by Oct. 11. The final phase of the structure installation will occur from Nov. 3 to 5.

The discovery of a 19.6-pound, nearly three-foot-long, Asian carp in Lake Calumet, about six miles between Lake Michigan and the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam in June, has left many with the fear that the carp has now penetrated the Great Lakes. There are unconfirmed reports that this particular carp was never a native of the Great Lakes but planted at this location. But the fact that the Great Lakes now appear within striking range of this fearsome predator leaves no option short of stepping up the pace of stopping Asian carp in their tracks, dead or alive.

Data continues to accumulate about the carp’s approach, with e-DNA traces that it leaves behind, and more cries are being heard from lawmakers to environmentalists, about untried remedies including one with astronomical costs suggested by Mayor Daley: reversing the direction of the Chicago River. This reversal would ensure the segregation of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) from other watersheds connected to the Mississippi River, which is believed to be the source from which the Asian carp could penetrate the Great Lakes. In addition, five Great Lakes states have filed lawsuits asking the Supreme Court to intervene and order the Corps of Engineers to seal the Chicago locks shut. But with the many other conduits remaining where the Asian Carp can penetrate the Great Lakes, the logical question is whether the unfathomable cost of reversing the Chicago River is justifiable. Perhaps this dollar amount should be spent on other avenues that the carp could use to penetrate the lakes, or on other valuable practices, including the preservation and protection of the Great Lakes from this and other invasive aquatic nuisances.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have been hard at work trying to stop the advance of the Asian carp, taking actions from increasing the strength of the electric barrier, to removing fish with net fishing, to using the chemical rotenone on the CSSC. Much needs to be done and understood about what means remain to ensure that no carp make it past this barrier. Recent reports from experts claim that the Great Lakes cannot provide adequate supplies of the plankton and warm temperatures needed to sustain the species’ long-term survival if it does enter the Great Lakes. As such, the carp can at best become a predator in a minority status living alongside others, from the indigenous to the invasive aquatic species.

This scheduled closure of part of the CSSC comes at a crucial time period that is reserved for the migratory return of Chicago’s 7,000 boats to their winter storage yards. The combination of restrictions placed upon boats by both infrequent bridge openings by the city of Chicago, and now by the Corps of Engineers, will become a difficult task for the boaters ending their boating season. This order, implemented at this date, could play a role in shortening the boating season for those that would prefer to lengthen their stays at the harbors. The Great Lakes Boating Federation strongly advises caution, staying away from the river surface while transiting through the barriers.