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By Jared Teutsch
Alliance Water Policy Advocate
Time. It’s a commodity Washington sometimes thinks comes from a never-ending bucket while most of us look at our watches waiting for action.
At times since Asian carp eDNA was discovered in the Chicago River in 2009, responses by the federal government have not reflected the urgency of the threat posed by Asian carp and other noxious invasive species on a path to the Great Lakes through the Chicago waterway. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has insisted that the Chicago portion of a study of options and technologies to prevent the transfer of aquatic invasives between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins -- also known as the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) –- could not be completed before the end of 2015 at the earliest. And legislation key to fast-tracking GLMRIS, the “Stop Asian Carp Act,” has been languishing for the last two years.
Recently there are signs the watches are ticking again. The new bipartisan “Stop Invasive Species Act” — introduced last month by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), and supported by Great Lakes legislators from Minnesota to Illinois to New York — would require the corps to focus, in part, on hydrological separation. It further calls on the corps to expedite the GLMRIS study, with a progress report due to Congress in 90 days and a full report required after 18 months.
In a surprising move at the end of April, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a provision offered by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) that incorporated part of the new “Stop Invasive Species Act” and would require study completion by July 1, 2014. This is a timely and progressive action by the committee that means Great Lakes lawmakers are seeing movement toward shrinking the GLMRIS timeline for the first time since the act was introduced.
And now it appears the corps itself is testing the waters on speeding up the GLMRIS project. Last week the corps announced plans to release in late 2013 a set of options for a permanent solution to the Asian carp threat. Committing to putting forth this "short list," the administration’s decision begins to acknowledge the unprecedented urgency and unity in the Great Lakes region behind solving this problem.
But, and it’s a significant but, missing from the announcement is getting the corps focused on how to permanently separate Lake Michigan from the carp-infested Mississippi River at Chicago. It also isn’t clear that the corps’ plan will make construction happen any sooner, or why the corps cannot narrow its focus earlier than the end of 2013. The administration still needs to commit to a tighter timeline for the complete study so the Great Lakes region has a chance to stop studying and start building sooner than 2016. Why continually bang the drum for faster action? For perspective, consider that this announcement comes on the heels of a 13-minute power outage that shut down electric barriers meant to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan -- 13 minutes we can only hope weren’t unlucky. Time, and eDNA, will tell whether or not Asian carp made it past the barrier. Shaving months and years off the corps’ work is indeed critical, but we must remember that the timeline for the Great Lakes continues to be set by the carp -- not our watches.
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