The recent legislative fight in Washington to keep the interest rate on federally-subsidized Stafford loans from doubling also provided an unexpected victory for those concerned with keeping invasive species out of the Great Lakes.
Included within the $120 billion transportation bill Congress passed last Friday was a measure to extend the student loan interest rate at 3.4 percent for one year as well as a provision requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to come up with a plan in 18 months to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes.
Corps officials said last month plans had been in the works to produce a report by the end of 2013 that would outline an array of options the agency could take to address the invasion of Asian Carp within the Chicago-area waterway system.
Under the Stop Invasive Species Act, however, the timeframe remains the same, but it requires the Corps to produce a more detailed, comprehensive response to the problem. The report will now have to focus on keeping the invasive species out of all 18 locations identified as possible entry points instead of just Chicago-area waters.
The plan also requires the Corps to provide a progress report to Congress 90 days after the law is enacted, offering a timetable of “milestones” USACE intends to meet along the way toward final completion of the study, which includes an analysis of the costs needed to fund the study.
Environmental groups had been pushing for a vote on the measure since it was first introduced in April, only to see it go nowhere as partisan fights over issues like the interest rate on student loans took center stage. “While we don’t like to see the way the bill was advanced, it’s good to see the result is nonetheless potentially fantastic for the Great Lakes,” National Resource Defense Council spokesman Josh Mogerman said.
Lawmakers throughout the region have gone back and forth for years on ways to stop invasive species such as Asian Carp from grabbing a foothold within the Great Lakes, with many feeling the best solution relied upon the permanent separation of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, where Asian Carp prominently reside.
Asian carp is one of 39 different invasive species identified by USACE as a potential threat to the ecological life within the Great Lakes, one of the world’s largest sources of freshwater fish, harvesting more than 65 million pounds a year that generates more than $1 billion annually for local economies.
Though the measure ended up receiving bipartisan support, interestingly, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D) was the only legislator out of a combined 30 from the Senate and the House to sign on as a co-sponsor. Last year, Durbin helped introduce a similar bill calling on USACE to devise a plan to create a barrier between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.
“Thousands of people in the tourism and fishing industries rely on a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem for their livelihood. Asian Carp is the number one threat to their way of life,” Durbin said at the time. “With so much at stake, we need to do everything we can to stop this invasive species.”
News of the measure’s passage comes at a time when recent testing has already found strong genetic evidence of the presence of Asian Carp in water near Lake Michigan.
Water samples taken in May reported 17 positive hits for Environmental, or eDNA of Asian Carp within Lake Calumet and the Little Calumet River. In its most recent tests conducted June 11, USACE reported four positive results for Asian Carp eDNA, three of which came from Lake Calumet, and a one from the North Shore Channel, a drainage canal located on the north branch of the Chicago River near Wilmette.
So far, there have been no sightings of an actual Asian Carp since 2010, when a bighead Asian Carp was captured in Lake Calumet.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days. When asked about the possible impact the measure could have on current USACE invasive species-prevention efforts, a spokesman for the Corps declined comment at this time preferring to wait until after the bill was signed.