WRDA reauthorization approved by U. S. Senate – Senate approves Asian carp barrier authorization

Long-awaited legislation to protect the Great Lakes against a potentially devastating invasion by Asian carp and addressing other regional needs cleared a major hurdle when the U.S. Senate approved it on Wednesday.

The Senate voted to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), including a provision for the completion and operation of electric barriers to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes. The barriers have been a top priority for Great Lakes advocates, owing to the potential for the voracious Asian carp to decimate the Great Lakes food chain upon which established species such as trout, walleye and salmon depend.

“This is truly welcome news,” said Tom Huntley, chair of the Great Lakes Commission. “Invasive species represent what many believe is the number one threat now facing the Great Lakes ecosystem, with Asian carp at the head of the pack. This barrier will help us ‘close the door’ on these invaders and protect our lakes and our region’s beloved sportfishing tradition.”

The provision authorizes the completion and ongoing operation of two electrical barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which links Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, where Asian carp became established after escaping from southern fish farms. The electric charge repels the carp from migrating toward Lake Michigan.

“The Sanitary and Ship Canal barriers are critical pieces of technology that will protect the Great Lakes from invasive species while allowing the canal to remain open to commercial and recreational navigation,” said Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, chair of the Great Lakes Commission’s Illinois Delegation. “We are grateful to our region’s Senators for persuading their colleagues that this is a project of national importance and giving it the support it so clearly deserves.”

Many members of the Senate Great Lakes delegation were instrumental in gaining support for the provision, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN).

The Sanitary and Ship Canal barrier includes a temporary barrier completed four years ago as a demonstration project and a more powerful permanent barrier now under construction. The Senate provision combines the two into a single project and authorizes the completion of the permanent barrier, upgrade of the demonstration barrier into a permanent one (for enhanced protection) and the ongoing operation of both at federal expense.

Last reauthorized in 2000, WRDA authorizes a variety of national water-related projects, including flood, storm and shoreline protection; environmental restoration; and improvements to critical infrastructure of the nation’s waterways and ports. The House passed its version of the bill (H. 2864), including a provision for the carp barrier, last year; the next step is for the House and Senate to resolve the differences between the two bills before a final vote.

Other Great Lakes-related provisions included in the House and Senate (S. 728) bills include:

  • authorizing the removal of obsolete or deteriorating dams, or modification of dam operations, in order to preserve valuable habitat by restoring natural flow conditions and protect downstream resources against possible dam failures;
  • authorizing projects consistent with the St. Clair River-Lake St. Clair Comprehensive Management Plan, which addresses environmental problems such as pollution and invasive species in the watershed;
  • amending the Great Lakes Fishery & Ecosystem Restoration program to clarify that all reconnaissance studies carried out under this authority shall be carried out at full federal expense, like all other reconnaissance studies;
  • expanding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ current authority to conduct beneficial use of dredge material projects to ensure that dredge spoils are used in beneficial projects;
  • doubling the amount of money authorized for the Improvement and Restoration of Ecosystems Program (“Section 1135”), which is used for projects that restore aquatic habitats, such as the sea lamprey barrier construction;
  • reauthorizing the Great Lakes Sediment Management and Modeling program, is used by the Corps to model sediment flow into the Great Lakes, until 2011; and
  • reauthorizing the Great Lakes Tributary Models authority until 2011.

 

For immediate release: July 20, 2006
Contact: Tim Eder, teder@glc.org, 734-971-9135

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The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. John Cherry (Mich.), is an interstate compact agency established under state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of governors’ appointees, state legislators, and agency officials from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formalObserver program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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