Asian carp invasion debated at hearing
Judge Robert Dow will rule on the request for a preliminary injunction that calls for authorities to prevent the carp from populating Lake Michigan.
Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 05:31 PM
ASIAN CARP: The prolific carp have crowded out other river species in parts of numerous waterways from the Missouri River to the Illinois River, and in some have injured boaters. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
CHICAGO - Asian carp are either poised to invade the Great Lakes and destroy a $7 billion fishery, or will never make it to the lakes or if they do pose little threat to anyone, a federal judge heard Monday.
At a final hearing before he rules on a request from five states for immediate action, Judge Robert Dow of the U.S. District Court in Chicago posed a few questions of his own about the latest developments in the long-running dispute but did not betray which way he might lean.
Dow said he may rule before early December on the request for a preliminary injunction that calls for authorities to bottle up the carp before they can populate Lake Michigan. That would be done by closing river locks and other measures.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania sued Chicago's regional water authority, other local government bodies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that controls the network of century-old man-made waterways that connect Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River watershed.
The states want the Army Corps to get moving quickly on a process of permanently separating the two watersheds.
The Army Corps, supported by commercial shippers and tourist boat operators, said the agency is opposed to closing off the waterways, which would hurt an array of industries. The defendants also argued that there is a risk of flooding if the locks cannot open and release floodwaters into the lake.
The discussion on Monday focused on the permeability of sluice gates and electric water barriers, the reliability of water samples containing "environmental" DNA from carp, whether closing the locks risks flooding during storms, and whether Asian carp stand a chance of dominating the Great Lakes.
One Bighead carp was fished out of waters near the lake in June beyond a set of electrical barriers built by the Army Corps. But no one knows how the fish got there, and efforts to catch more of the invaders beyond the barriers have come up empty.
The plaintiffs, led by the state of Michigan, note that environmental DNA from Asian carp have been found in 60 water samples taken above the barriers, an indication that the current containment efforts are inadequate. The defendants argued that the science behind environmental DNA was unproven.
The presidential appointment last month of a "carp czar" to oversee the federal response has not done anything so far to change the situation, lawyers for both sides said.
"One thing people are agreed on here: No one wants a sustainable population of Asian carp in Lake Michigan," Dow told the assembled lawyers.
The prolific carp have crowded out other river species in parts of numerous waterways from the Missouri River to the Illinois River, and in some cases leaping Silver carp have injured boaters. The fish, which are native to China and eastern Siberia, escaped from commercial U.S. fish farms and other operations during the 1980s.
The case is 1:10-cv-04457, State of Michigan, et al v United States Army Corps of Engineers, et al.
(Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Eric Walsh)
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