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Oops. Time to turn Asian carp barrier up to 11

By JoshMogerman in News on Mar 26, 2011 8:00PM

03_24_20011_AsianCarpCoordinatingCommitteeLogo.jpg We aren’t sure when the Trib got to be such a “glass half full” kind of operation, but the headline on their coverage of the latest chapter in the Asian carp saga is oddly positive. Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers admitted they are only sure that their electric fish barrier is effective with carp 5 1/2 inches or larger. While the headline “Electric barriers stop big Asian carp, tests show” is technically right, it does seem to miss the big news…after all, any little fish that happen to slip through will eventually become the big jumping demons that plague Great Lakes advocates’ nightmares.

The Corps’ lab tests show that smaller carp have less surface area, making them immune to the jolt from the current electric charge in the water. Turning up the juice might do the trick, but that is unlikely to be as easy as it sounds, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s crack Great Lakes reporter, Dan Egan:

The reason the barrier isn't running full-throttle is the threat that electricity poses to canal barge operators in the area, many of whom are pushing flammable materials through the barrier, located about 35 miles southwest of Lake Michigan. The canal provides an artificial link between Lake Michigan and the Asian carp-infested Mississippi River basin. The Army Corps is in the midst of a five-year study looking at ways to re-create the natural separation between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan.

The federal government also hasn't completed its evaluations of safety tests for operating the barrier at the higher strength, and [Army Corps of Engineers’ General] Peabody said he won't green-light the higher voltage until they are complete. That work should be done later this spring.

So, it would seem that the problem will not be addressed right away to ensure the coal and oil barges plying the waterway don’t go up in smoke. In the meantime, carp experts have noted that a six-inch Asian carp can swim at least 37 miles from the spot it hatched. The Fish and Wildlife Service says that spawning carp are at least 25 miles away at the moment.

This latest gaff in the troubled history of the barrier leaves some fuming and wondering if it isn’t time to take a different tact:

"The Army Corps keeps repeating the refrain that its electric barrier is working, no matter what the evidence actually shows," said Thom Cmar, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We cannot pin the future of the Great Lakes on a science experiment. We need to move to separate the lakes from the Mississippi River as soon as possible."
That sounds right to us…but maybe we are more “glass half empty” kinda people…