Sea of concern: Congress could pay now or later on the lakes

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New reports that invasive Asian carp may have found another potential route into the Lake Erie watershed are alarming. An analysis of water samples gathered from the Muskingum River in southeast Ohio last fall identified genetic material from bighead carp, its so-called eDNA. The study found no live carp in the river — yet.

Asian carp consume the food supply and destroy the habitat of native fish species. Their presence in Lake Erie would threaten the Great Lakes’ extensive fishing industry — and the jobs, businesses and tourism that depends on it. To avoid such a disaster, all potential points of entry to Lake Erie need to be blocked to the voracious, fast-breeding carp.

The best way to prevent infestation of Asian carp in Lake Erie and the other lakes is clear: physical separation of the Great Lakes from the basin of the Mississippi River, where carp proliferate. Such an effort would be expensive ($18 billion) and time-consuming (25 years), the Corps estimates. But no better alternative has emerged. At least the funding can be spread out over decades.

Legislation before Congress would require such hydrologic separation, and the proposal needs to move, now.

Lawmakers also would show essential support for Lake Erie by at least maintaining current funding — $300 million a year — for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That broad-based plan seeks to keep the lakes healthy by cleaning up toxins, combating invasive species, protecting watersheds from polluted runoff and restoring wetlands.

President Barack Obama kicked off the restoration initiative in 2010 with first-year funding of $475 million. But his budget proposal for the next fiscal year would reduce annual spending to $275 million.

Representatives from Great Lakes states such as Pennsylvania say they favor the $300 million allocation for the lakes initiative. They need to work with their colleagues and the president to approve the funding.

 

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