U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13) today submitted the following testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment during a Congressional hearing entitled "Asian Carp and the Great Lakes," where environmental experts and interested stakeholders shared their views on the latest efforts to prevent the aquatic invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes:
"Members of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, thank you for holding today's subcommittee hearing on Asian carp and the Great Lakes. I commend your efforts to convene all important stakeholders interested in balancing the mission of the waterway system with that of Asian carp mitigation efforts. Keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is a priority we all share and I trust today's hearing will enlighten the members of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the intense and coordinated efforts that the State of Illinois and relevant agencies have taken in an effort to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
"As you might know, my district represents the front line in the fight to keep this fish from decimating the ecosystem of our Great Lakes. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal transverses my district and forms a unique, man-made link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. While it is a critical avenue for commerce, it also provides aquatic invasive species access between these two bodies of water.
"Since I was first elected to Congress, I have worked with the Corps to build and expand the electric dispersal barriers. The Corps, specifically, has invested a tremendous amount of time and resources in the barriers to prevent invasive species from migrating through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. A project that once started as a demonstration barrier for zebra mussels in 2000 grew into a second, more powerful barrier for Asian carp. And it has worked.
"Events in the last year have elevated the concern that Asian carp may be closer to Lake Michigan than originally thought. In response, the Corps, EPA, Fish and Wildlife, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have executed an all-hands-on-deck approach to discover and destroy carp in area waterways. They have done an exemplary job of using all preventative means available, including fish sampling, electro-fishing, the completion of a second electric barrier, and the recent deployment of Rotenone in an effort to combat the carp. Their efforts have succeeded. To date, one Bighead carp was recovered (a dead one) -- below the electric dispersal barriers.
"In recent weeks, efforts to litigate and legislate Chicago-area lock closures as a means of keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan have created enormous concern in the region. The "act now, think later" approach would no doubt cause more harm than good, for two reasons:
"First, closing the locks could increase the risk of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago (MWRD) manages waste water and storm water for Chicago and 124 municipalities through an intricate system of sluice gates, tunnels and reservoirs that has taken decades to construct. Closing the locks would overwhelm that tunnel system and cause massive flooding, affecting more than 3 million people and 1.4 million structures in Chicago and 51 surrounding suburbs.
"If the locks were to remain closed, as some proposals suggest, excess floodwater could not be released back into Lake Michigan and could flow over the top of the lock -- creating more avenues for carp to migrate into the lake and significant loss of life and property in the area.
"Second, closing the locks would devastate the Midwest economy. In 2008, 19 million tons of commodities moved through the Chicago, O'Brien, and Lockport locks combined. Of that 19 million tons, 7 million tons moved through the O'Brien lock alone.
"In fact, a 2007 study commissioned by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce suggests that lock and dam closures could diminish the shipping and receiving of over $29 billion dollars worth of petroleum, chemicals, building materials and farm products that depend on Illinois waterways. And, there is no viable alternative to re-routing that commerce. According to the American Waterways Operators, a single barge can carry an amount of liquid cargo -- like asphalt -- that would fill 144 semi-trailer trucks or 46 rail cars. Our rail and highway routes are not equipped to make up that difference.
"As the committee pursues options to address Asian carp prevention efforts, I hope the focus will remain on the coordinated approach underway with the Asian Carp Rapid Response working group. Whether it's funding or legislation -- like my bill to list the Bighead carp as injurious -- we need to exercise proven options that protect the lakes and the livelihoods of Illinois residents. That includes enhancing our electronic barriers, deploying fish toxin, additional DNA tracking, and the creation of new barriers against flooding threats. I hope that my colleagues from other states would join in that effort.