Army Corps to activate carp barrier Wednesday
Written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 13:42
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning Wednesday to turn on its new $9 million Asian carp barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Biologists call the fish-shocking contraption the last line of defense in the fight to keep the supersized cousins to the common carp from invading the Great Lakes.

Construction on the barrier was finished three years ago but the Army Corps had refused to turn it on, fearing it could be deadly to barge operators and recreational boaters plying the canal - an artificial link between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan.

Testing and training is scheduled for the next week or two before it is permanently activated.

"They'll run it intermittently as they work out any wrinkles or bumps that they come into, since the thing hasn't operated long-term since it was constructed," said University of Wisconsin Sea Grant's Phil Moy, co-chairman of the advisory panel that has been working with the Army Corps on keeping the invasive carp out of the world's largest freshwater system.

"The hope is to have it operating full time by the end of the month."

The new barrier is a stronger version and a backup to a weaker barrier that has been operating on the canal since 2002.

The new barrier will operate at only about one-quarter of its maximum strength because of concerns that higher voltages could create sparks between barges, some of which carry flammable materials.

The problem is that lower voltage is not strong enough to turn back juvenile fish. More testing is planned for this summer to determine if the new barrier is safe to operate at higher levels.

The Army Corps is also planning to work with fishery biologists to figure out the optimal voltage to repel fish of all sizes.

The filter-feeding Asian carp escaped their containment ponds in Arkansas several decades ago and have been migrating north since. They have been found about 15 miles downstream from the new barrier.

The barriers are considered a stop-gap measure to keep the carp from swimming up the canal into the Great Lakes, but there are other potential pathways for the fish to make it into Lake Michigan.

One of them is flooding along the canal that could allow the fish to swim around the barrier.

"The barriers are not a panacea," said Col. Vincent Quarles, the Army Corps' Chicago District commander, in a news release. "They serve to plug the biggest hole, but much more work needs to be done and we all need to start looking at options for blocking other pathways."

Army Corps officials cautioned Monday that boaters and barge operators should assume as of Wednesday that the new barrier is firing dangerous doses of electrical current into the water.

Signs along the canal indicate the barrier's location. Boaters moving through the area are advised to stay seated and to stay out of the canal, which carries Chicago's treated sewage.

Barges carrying flammable materials are also required to be escorted through the barrier zone by Army Corps-provided bow boats to reduce the chances of a sparks flying between passing vessels.

 
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