From the field: Managing competing environmental and public use interests on the Great Lakes

>Today’s post from the field comes from Lt. Larry Ouzts of the Investigations/Inspections department at Marine Safety Unit Chicago. His piece touches on the challenges the Coast Guard faces managing competing environmental and public interests in the vicinity of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ electrified Aquatic Nuisance Species Dispersal Barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in Romeoville, Ill.

Here’s Lt. Ouzts’ perspective:

“Since the 1980’s, two species of Asian Carp, Bighead and Silver, have been migrating north through the Mississippi River Basin wreaking havoc on the native ecosystem, displacing native species, and adversely effecting economies in the Midwest. Should these fish establish populations in the Great Lakes, they could have devastating effects on the marine environment and fishing industries.

In an effort to protect the Great Lakes from invasive Asian Carp species, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) constructed an Electric Fish Barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC). The barrier works by pulsing large amounts of direct current electricity into the water from steel conductors laid across the bottom of the canal.

(Right: Aerial photo of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal showing the location of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Aquatic Nuisance Species Dispersal Barrier.)

The nearer a fish swims towards the barrier, the more intense the discomfort from the electric field in the water. Eventually, the discomfort repels a fish back south away from the barrier. Since 2002, the barrier protected Lake Michigan from these invasive fish. In July 2009, USACE reported that environmental DNA (eDNA) samples indicated the Asian Carp were closer to the barrier than originally thought. USACE responded to this news by increasing the operating parameters of the electric field.

As the only barrier of it’s kind across a navigable waterway, this complex project requires extensive operational and safety testing.

The Coast Guard’s role is to ensure the waterway remains safe and accessible for commercial and recreational users. To mitigate the risk posed by the electrified water in a critical waterway, we established a Regulated Navigational Area and Safety Zone in the vicinity of the fish barrier for vessels to transit that portion of the CSSC.

While most vessels over 20’ long have been permitted to transit through the safety zone if they follow specified safety recommendations, vessels under 20 feet long, all personal watercraft such as jet skis, and all non-power driven craft including canoes and kayaks are not permitted to transit the waterway due to the safety concerns inherent with electrified water.

(Left: Users permitted to transit the Coast Guard safety zone do so at their own risk. While safety measures have been identified to reduce risks to mariners, they do not eliminate the dangers. The Coast Guard and the Army Corps are still working to identify a safe means to rescue a person in the water or disabled vessel within the electrified waters. USCG photo by PA2 Bill Colclough, Ninth District)

The Coast Guard is working with USACE to identify a safe method for rescuing a victim or disabled vessel from the electrified water as no safe option currently exists. If a person or object falls in the water, for the safety of the person in the water, as well as the rescuer, no one should attempt recovery until the person or object is downstream the electrified zone which is approximately 450 feet south of the Romeo Road Bridge. Waterway users permitted to transit the safety zone must do so at their own risk.

The Coast Guard continues to work closely with the Corps of Engineers, collecting and analyzing data, in an ongoing effort to better mitigate the risks associated with the barrier while facilitating commerce and providing safe, open access to waterway users. The Coast Guard has set up a website: www.uscg.fishbarrierinfo.com to provide the latest information on transit restrictions and requirements. For those interested in information regarding the Fish Barrier project, please contact the Army Corps of Engineers or go to: www.lrc.usace.army.mil. “

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