Up to three feet of snow may have blanketed Washington, D.C., all but closing the federal government on Monday and Tuesday, but there's one thing the blizzard couldn't stop: Asian carp. The invasive species, known around here for their annoying ability to leap out of the Illinois River and smack into recreational boaters and fishermen, was the subject of a too-important-to-be-canceled hearing on Capitol Hill, where testimony was heard regarding Uncle Sam's newly unveiled, $78.5 million plan to halt their relentless swim into the Great Lakes.

Up to three feet of snow may have blanketed Washington, D.C., all but closing the federal government on Monday and Tuesday, but there's one thing the blizzard couldn't stop: Asian carp.


The invasive species, known around here for their annoying ability to leap out of the Illinois River and smack into recreational boaters and fishermen, was the subject of a too-important-to-be-canceled hearing on Capitol Hill, where testimony was heard regarding Uncle Sam's newly unveiled, $78.5 million plan to halt their relentless swim into the Great Lakes.


The longstanding problem of the bottom-feeders began decades ago when flooding allowed them to escape their downriver pens in Louisiana and Arkansas, where they had been imported to clean up catfish farms and sewage plants. Species native to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers were crowded out as competition for the available food grew. Lately they've been threatening to breach the failing electrical barriers that were set up to keep them from entering Lake Michigan.


A U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit brought by neighboring states to force Illinois to shut down waterways like the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel to keep the creatures out didn't go anywhere. In the meantime multiple federal agencies were working to address both the immediate threat and the root problem with 25 separate actions.


The multi-pronged approach would expedite construction of additional electrical barriers to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes, aid in the development of methods to keep the carp from spawning, boost the commercial carp fishing industry - potentially a boon locally, with an estimated nine tons of the fish present in each mile of river between Peoria and Beardstown - and fund research into a poison that could eradicate the troublesome critters without harming other fish.


While those plans are implemented in the near term, the feds would address the concerns of Illinois' neighbors - already intent on another Supreme Court lawsuit - by opening up the locks leading from Lake Michigan into the shipping canals less frequently. That would permit vital barge traffic to continue moving with only limited delays. Each time the locks are opened, the nearby area would be dredged with nets or dosed with a harmless-to-humans poison in order to prevent any fish from moving upstream.


Illinois officials plan a pre-emptory dredging of the waterways beginning next week, and are pleading for the feds to step up their assistance. "This is a problem that's not going to be solved by one state or one agency," John Rogner, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told the House panel on Tuesday. "We believe our Great Lakes is stronger when we work together." Clearly Illinois hasn't had much success so far with its unilateral efforts.


Naysayers who'd peg this as yet one more waste of government money - and we are as sensitive to Uncle Sam's overspending as anybody - ignore the fact that sometimes there's little choice. The cost of letting the invaders take over the Great Lakes is far higher than the price tag of this plan, a significant part of which has already been set aside to pay for the restoration of the lakes. Indeed, feel free to weigh this $78.5 million against the $7.2 billion economic pop the sport fishing and recreation industries produce each year for Illinois and neighboring states.


Or tally up the cost of the alternative, shutting down the waterways completely - a process that could cause flooding problems and isn't guaranteed to stop the carp. Doing so would not just cripple a billion-dollar barge industry in this part of the country, it would require goods to be shipped more expensively and with more environmental impact by road, reportedly adding $500 million to the cost of grain transportation alone - a hike certain to be passed on to consumers eventually.


As such, we hope this national effort to address a national problem in national waterways attracts support and finally starts to turn the tide in the battle against the invasive Asian carp.


Peoria Journal Star