Michigan DNR spending $8M to block Asian carp amidst recent Chicago River tests

Asian carp
At Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, an invasive Asian carp leaps high out of the water to escape biologists’ nets. | Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is allotting $8 million in state funds to support a barrier system project that aims to curb movement of invasive Asian carp along Lake Michigan-connected waterways. 

DNR Director Dan Eichinger on Tuesday confirmed Michigan’s intent to fund the “preconstruction, engineering and design phase of a multifaceted barrier system” that would prevent different types of Asian carp — bighead, silver and black carp — from accessing the region. 

In a letter dated Monday, Eichinger wrote to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite — chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) — and explained what action needed to be taken. Control measures would happen at Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill. – a city about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. 

Michigan members of Congress visit Asian carp ‘choke point’

The region is a critical “pinch point” for stoppage of Asian carp species in the Chicago Area Waterway System, per a DNR press release. In July, bipartisan Michigan members of Congress toured the Brandon Road Lock pinch point, where the USACE has concentrated its efforts to slow invasive carp travel.

Per a Friday announcement, 76 of 414 water samples taken from Lake Michigan-connected waterways tested positive for environmental DNA, or eDNA, of invasive carp.

Michigan congressional delegation members
Michigan delegation members highlight a critical project to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, IL. | U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

About 49 water samples from the Chicago River’s South Branch also tested positive for silver carp eDNA. Another 27 tested positive for bighead carp eDNA. No live, physical invasive carp were found in the samples. However, DNR officials are concerned because the reports of invasive carp eDNA presence are more numerous than previously thought.

The project at Brandon Road Lock and Dam would involve installing different technologies in the region to prevent invasive carp movement. The use of an electric barrier, underwater sound, air bubble curtain and a flushing lock would be implemented to divert the carp’s travel. 

Project supporters are currently seeking congressional approval. The Illinois DNR plans to increase surveillance for invasive carp while sponsoring the project. Per Eichinger’s letter, Michigan will collaborate with them on it. 

“Stopping invasive carp from getting into the Great Lakes is one of the most important things we can do to protect Michigan’s signature natural resource,” Eichinger said. “The recent eDNA findings present one more piece of evidence that we need to move the Brandon Road project from concept to reality as soon as possible.”

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) weighed in on the findings. In a joint letter, the Michigan U.S. senators called on the director of the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Chicago District of the USACE to “take immediate response actions” to the findings. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also said she wants to work with partners across the region, like Illinois, to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. 

“Our economy and way of life in Michigan depends on the preservation of our water, but right now, the threat of invasive species like Asian Carp is putting the future of our Great Lakes, our economy, and Michiganders’ well-being at risk,” Whitmer said. “The threat of Asian Carp is not new. It has grown to the point where we cannot afford to delay action.”

Whitmer, Great Lakes governors form coalition on Asian carp

Whitmer in July joined governors from each Great Lakes state in a bipartisan coalition that assists Illinois state officials in maintaining the Joliet choke point. Whitmer said she’d “continue to work with our congressional delegation and [Illinois] Governor [J.B.] Pritzker to protect our precious Great Lakes and our environment,” as the Advance previously reported. 

Michigan faces the greatest risk if invasive carp infest the Great Lakes Basin, per the Michigan DNR. Bighead, silver and black carp present a significant ecological threat to Michigan’s economy and ecosystem, including its tourism industry, boating industry, property and $7 billion fishery.