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Floods Highlight Need for Comprehensive Carp Solution

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Last week, Asian carp returned to newspaper headlines after intense flooding occurred in the Mississippi River Basin. Spring floods swept across millions of acres along the river basin from southern Missouri into Louisiana and left many local communities under water. While area residents face the difficulties of rebuilding their lives in the wake of the high waters, they now also find themselves involved in the national prevention efforts against the Asian carp.

The spread of the Asian carp was a recognized repercussion of the undesirable circumstances in the Mississippi River Basin. In order to alleviate the potential implications of long-term flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) needed to detonate the levees to send the river's rising water into nearby floodways. For the sake of water control and the well-being of the region's residents, the effort was a no-brainer. Nonetheless, the intentional breeches of the levees likely facilitated the migration of Asian carp into new tributaries, streams and other bodies of water.

Unfortunately, the reality that the Asian carp found their way into new waters is far from surprising and has actually been happening for awhile. Originally introduced in the Mississippi River to control algae in catfish farms, the species has advanced north in the Mississippi for over three decades.

Over the course of the last year, the Asian carp have alarmed some residents and policymakers in the Great Lakes region who fear that these fish will successfully gain entrance into Lake Michigan and adversely affect the Great Lakes ecosystem along with fishing and tourism. This fear, consequently, spurred Michigan and five other Great Lakes states to sue the USACE in federal court in an attempt to force immediate closure of the locks along the Chicago waterway system.

As Chicago environmental groups would have you believe, shutting down and sealing the Chicago locks system is the one and only way to contain the Asian carp and claim victory in the fight against them. Both the federal court and the Supreme Court, however, rejected that approach. Furthermore, substantial evidence was presented demonstrating that there are, in fact, eighteen routes by which Asian carp can reach the Great Lakes.

As last week's news made evident, the battleground for the fight against Asian carp is not just the Chicago River and the Great Lakes region -- it's a large portion of the national waterway system. While the floods in Missouri and Louisiana do not mean Asian carp are any closer to the Great Lakes than they were yesterday, they do serve as a serious reminder that a multi-tiered solution is the best answer in addressing this invasive species problem.

Policymakers and residents in the region, particularly Michigan, have had a one-track mind when it comes to dealing with Asian carp. Instead of supporting necessary steps in neighboring states and downstream to prevent the Asian carp from advancing, they have singularly focused on closing the locks and permanent hydrologic separation.

That counterproductive reasoning is one reason why, at this point in time, there's simply not enough preventative measures being taken by state governments. The fight against the Asian carp necessitates a coordinated effort by all states affected, which is why more states should be following Indiana's lead. By collaborating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Hoosier state has taken steps to ensure flooding in Eagle Marsh would not result in further advancement of Asian carp from the Wabash River into the Maumee River. Indiana state officials erected a 1,177-foot chain link fence measuring eight feet high, with a 494-foot debris catch fence. Unfortunately, the $200,000 barrier is the only one of its kind in the region to date.

The focus on Chicago as the single point of entry has detracted from the ecological debate to control Asian carp throughout the river system. Any environmental activists who use the spring floods of the Mississippi River as a cause for extreme action in the Chicago area waterway system are grossly exaggerating their impact. At its northernmost point, the flood region is hundreds of miles south of the Chicago area.

If we adopt a long-term, strategic solution to the Asian carp issue, we can control these fish and be in a much different (and better) place than we are now. It's time to stop with the politically motivated calls for Chicago lock closure and separation and start taking real, comprehensive steps across the region to address the problem.