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Letter to Barack Obama, President of the United States - Immediate Action on Asian Carp

Following the discovery of a Bighead Asian Carp on the wrong side of the electric barrier six miles from Lake Michigan, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote to President Obama today asking him to immediately appoint a federal Coordinated Response Commander for Asian carp. By appointing a Coordinated Response Commander, the President would signal that the effort to prevent the Asian carp from establishing itself in Lake Michigan is a national priority and would put in place a single individual to coordinate the day-to-day efforts of the multiple federal, state and local agencies involved. The letter was sent to the White House earlier today and was signed by ten Senators whose states border the Great Lakes.

"Since 2003, we've been working at the federal level to keep this invasive species away from Lake Michigan. But the capture of a live fish on the wrong side of the electric barrier changes everything. We have to redouble our efforts and do everything in our power to stop this invasive species from entering Lake Michigan," said Durbin. "We have to go at this as if we were at war. The viability of the Great Lakes is at stake."

In the letter, Durbin and his colleagues write:

"[W]e write to you with a renewed sense of urgency, asking you to name a federal Coordinated Response Commander for Asian carp who can effectively marshal and organize these efforts to contain the spread of the carp. . . . We need the best and the brightest -- scientists, engineers, and environmental experts -- focused on this single goal. That is why we are calling on you to immediately appoint a Coordinated Response Commander for Asian carp to fight this battle. We need someone with the knowledge and skills to direct and coordinate multiple federal, state and private sector efforts."

Durbin also discussed legislation he and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will introduce early next week to require the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an expedited study to determine how to physically separate the waterways that connect the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watersheds to prevent the passage of aquatic invasive species. This "hydrological separation" -- a complex feat of engineering -- may be the best hope for a long-term solution for containing invasive species.

The bill will require that the study begin within 30 days of enactment and be completed within 18 months of enactment, with several reports due in the intervening months. The study will examine other modes of transportation for shipping, and create engineering designs to move canal traffic from one water body to the other without transferring aquatic species, and it will detail the environmental benefits, costs and construction time estimates of each option. It will also address flooding threats, Chicago wastewater, waterway safety operations and barge and recreational vessel traffic alternatives.

Text of the letter appears below:

June 24, 2010

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

We write to request your immediate assistance in strengthening the coordinated effort of federal, state and local agencies working to protect the Great Lakes from the spread of the invasive Asian carp. Several agencies have put considerable resources into preventing the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes, and we appreciate that some progress has been made. But with the discovery this week of an adult Asian carp six miles from Lake Michigan, we write to you with a renewed sense of urgency, asking you to name a federal Coordinated Response Commander for Asian carp who can effectively marshal and organize these efforts to contain the spread of the carp.

State and federal officials have worked together since 2003 to develop containment strategies, including construction of electric barriers in the waterway designed to prevent the fish from reaching Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes. Now a Bighead Asian Carp has been taken from the waterway on the wrong side of the electric barrier. Scientists tell us that once Asian carp are established in the Great Lakes, significant environmental deterioration is unavoidable.

The Great Lakes are a national treasure, a significant economic resource and an invaluable recreational ecosystem. The Asian carp have the potential to debilitate a multi-billion dollar fishing industry and significantly impair the tourism industry. Of far more significance, though, is the threat this invasive species poses to the ecological viability of the Great Lakes. Preventing the Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan should be a national priority. We need the best and the brightest -- scientists, engineers, and environmental experts -- focused on this single goal.

That is why we are calling on you to immediately appoint a Coordinated Response Commander for Asian carp to fight this battle. We need someone with the knowledge and skills to direct and coordinate multiple federal, state and private sector efforts.

We are committed to working with you and your Administration to continue our efforts to fight this aggressive invasive species. Thank you for your support of the Great Lakes. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
George V. Voinovich (R-OH)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sherrod Brown (D-NY)
Dick Lugar (R-IN)
United States Senators


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