Environmental groups and barge operators have renewed a dispute over whether there should be physical separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River water systems to prevent the spread of Asian carp.
The latest controversy stems from a report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , which lays out eight different options for reducing the spread of aquatic invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins -- species like the voracious Asian carp, now prevalent in the Illinois River, not far from Lake Michigan.
The federal report includes a few alternatives that would physically separate the two basins, using things like large piles of soil that could withstand major floods.
Joel Brammeier, of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said it's a big deal just to have those options.
“For the first time, we have a serious federal consideration of the separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River on the table,” he said.
Henry Henderson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said physical separation of the two basins could improve the carrying of goods by water and reverse a decline.
“The barge industry is already at risk, and it accounts for under 4 percent of the movement of goods in this area,” said Henderson.
Lynn Muench, of American Waterways Operators, a barge and tugboat group, said her industry is doing pretty well. But, she said, physical separation would hurt her members bottom line and some transportation alternatives would harm the environment.
“For instance, if you wanted to move a single barge of coal from the rivers onto the Great Lakes, that would be 70 trucks that would have to go through the state,” said Muench.
Muench said the barge operators will discuss better carp-stopping options during upcoming public meetings, including a session in Milwaukee next Monday. She said there are better options than spending billions of dollars to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.