MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal and state leaders highlighted the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in downtown Minneapolis on Monday as a crucial barrier for stopping the advance of Asian carp up the Mississippi River.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Erik Paulsen visited the site Monday to tout legislation to make it easier to close the lock and dam. They spoke to reporters at a University of Minnesota laboratory just across the river from the lock where researchers are studying bubble barriers and other potential ways to stop the invasive carp.
"There's really no other fish that's capable of wreaking the kind of damage to our lakes and streams that these Asian carp present," said Dave Schad, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Asian carp are voracious feeders that outcompete native fish species for plankton, which is eaten by small fish at the bottom of the food chain that sustain game fish such as walleyes, northern pike and bass. One species, silver carp, can jump as high as 10 feet into the air, sometimes injuring boaters. They and a larger species, bighead carp, have become well established farther south in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers since escaping from southern fish farms, probably around the late 1970s. One of the three Asian carp caught in the Mississippi near Winona on March 1 was yet another unwelcome species, the grass carp.
The economic stakes are high, Klobuchar and other officials said. Tourism is an $11 billion industry in Minnesota and much of it is dependent on the state's lakes and streams and the sport fishing they support, they said. Klobuchar noted Asian carp now make up 90 percent of the total weight of all fish in the Illinois River.
Closing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam requires congressional approval because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is mandated by federal law to keep it open to let barge and other boat traffic pass.
The legislation — introduced last week by Klobuchar, Paulsen, Sen. Al Franken, and Reps. Keith Ellison and Tim Walz — would "kick start the process," she said. Gov. Mark Dayton and the DNR support the proposal. The idea of closing the lock has been around awhile but Paulsen said developing the plan required a coordinated effort by state and federal officials that took time.
"Closing a lock is not a little thing," Klobuchar said.
A scrap metal yard and a gravel operation in Minneapolis are the primary commercial users of the upper lock, but it also carries some recreational boat traffic. Klobuchar said those businesses somehow managed to get by using trucks instead of barges when the lock was closed for several months after the collapse of the nearby Interstate 35W bridge in 2007.
One key feature of their bill is a pair of triggers that would require the corps to impose an immediate emergency closure at St. Anthony Falls, Klobuchar said. They would kick in if adult Asian carp were caught above Lock and Dam No. 2 downstream in Hastings or if juvenile Asian carp were caught above Lock and Dam No. 4 farther downstream at Alma, Wis. The bill would also require the corps to conduct feasibility studies, due six months and 12 months after its passage, on closing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam. Other possible solutions may placing be electrical barriers, like those being used in a canal in Chicago to try to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, or bubble barriers in the locks.
DNR officials said it might not take long for fresh catches to trip the bill's triggers. DNA evidence of Asian carp but no live specimen was found upstream from Minneapolis last year, above the Coon Rapids Dam. There have been a couple catches over the years of live Asian carp in the St. Croix River, which flows into the Mississippi just below Hastings. The fight took on renewed urgency at the start of this month when the three adult Asian carp were netted near Winona, below Alma.
Klobuchar said the next step will be to get a hearing scheduled. She said she's already spoken about that with Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Schad acknowledged it's "a million dollar question" whether their efforts are already too late to keep the invaders from eventually infiltrating up the Mississippi to important recreational waters such as Mille Lacs Lake. He said the DNR is hoping the numbers of any Asian carp upstream can be kept low enough to prevent them from establishing a breeding population before they die off naturally.
Dayton's supplementary budget proposal announced Monday includes $8 million through June 2013 for the control of aquatic invasive species including Asian carp.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.