Videos show fish swimming through barrier meant to stop Asian carp

Chicago — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham is quite comfortable that the threat of a Great Lakes Asian carp invasion is under control.

“We’ve got our electric barrier,” she said before a Jan. 9 public hearing on the Army Corps’ new study that says it will take at least a quarter-century to erect barriers to block the rapacious fish from swimming into Lake Michigan. “And we’re confident that it is doing the job.”

No, it is not.

Not if you believe a video obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that was taken by federal biologists last summer. Just one 3-minute clip reveals dozens of little fish swimming upstream through the swath of electrified water on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, only about 35 miles downstream from Chicago’s lakeshore.

The Army Corps has long argued that its fish-shocking contraption is an adequate bandage that buys the agency time to figure out how to surgically close the ecological wound opened by Chicago’s sewage canal system more than a century ago. Chicago dug the canals to reverse the flow of its namesake river — and the city’s sewage along with it — away from Lake Michigan, the city’s drinking water source.

The only thing holding back the Asian carp at the moment is the electric barrier, but few people beyond Illinois politicians, the canal-dependent barge industry and the Army Corps are buying the idea that the barrier is doing its job. Many worry the agency’s continued confidence in this leaky, last line of defense will take a tragic toll on the Great Lakes, the world’s largest freshwater system.

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