Brandon Road Report Is Irresponsible

August 14, 2017

After a long, unexplained delay, the Corps of Engineers has finally released the more detailed report on alternatives at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam for addressing Asian carp spread.

It’s unclear why the delay happened, although it’s reasonable to suppose that the Corps was asked to delay its release by the Trump administration, either specifically, or as part of its review of regulations in general.

In this case, the delay annoyed anti-carp activists and elected officials, who waged a publicity campaign for its release. A small but vocal faction still advocates for completely separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds, although the cost and complexity of such an undertaking renders it extremely unlikely.

All the alternatives were previously discussed, if in not as much detail, in a previous Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) report released in January 2014.

Based on an analysis of six alternatives, including doing nothing, the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) includes both structural and nonstructural elements. The measures include water jets, using “complex” sounds underwater to drive away the carp, flushing the lock, building an additional electric barrier, a specially engineered channel and building boat launches upstream of the lock to support control activities.

It also includes other measures already being used, such as harvesting, and applying certain fish-killing chemicals, although these don’t kill eggs or larvae.
It’s a lot of activity that gives an impression that “something” is being done, which may be the main attraction of the TSP.

The American Waterways Operators has long contended that installing any additional electric barrier is beyond the Corps’ authority and requires action by Congress.

Another barrier will require reconfiguring tows in ways that will slow traffic, and the engineered channel will also cause problems. AWO also claims that the Corps severely underestimates the cost of all these measure to industry and to the broader economy.

But the main question is whether any additional measures are needed at all. Existing measures have been demonstrably effective. As part of the existing harvesting program, millions of tons of carp have been harvested and exported to China, where it is highly prized as “Mississippi whitefish” and preferred to native Chinese varieties.

Despite a few scares promoted by media, such as findings of carp DNA or individual fish, the carp population has not moved further north in 25 years. Although GLMRIS originally mandated that measures be targeted at a range of potentially invasive species, not just carp, the TSP seems to be targeted at carp only, reinforcing the impression that its main purpose is to placate stirred-up opinion.

In the face of sustained pressure and the hyping of clickbait carp stories by the media, it may be politically difficult for the Corps to publicly defend a “do nothing” option.

But spending even more millions beyond those that have already been spent with no clear and convincing evidence that these millions will accomplish anything while causing problems for industry is not just wasteful, but irresponsible.

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