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CAWS Advisory Committee Evaluates Potential Impact of Proposed Asian Carp and Other Aquatic Nuisance Species Controls on Commercial Transportation

CGLI participates on a multi-stakeholder advisory committee that is developing consensus recommendations for controlling the two-way transfer of Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species (ANS) between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins through the Chicago Area Waterways System (CAWS). The committee (sometimes referred to as the “CAWS-AC”) has established working criteria for evaluating alternative ANS controls. The working criteria are to:

  • Prevent two-way interbasin transfer of ANS between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River System through the CAWS in Illinois and Indiana;
  • Maintain or enhance efficient maritime transportation and commerce through and on the CAWS;
  • Reduce flood risk in Illinois and Indiana;
  • Reduce impact of combined sewer overflows in Illinois and Indiana;
  • Protect or improve water quality in the CAWS, Lake Michigan, and the Illinois River Basin, and meet applicable federal and state environmental regulations;
  • Reduce the need for discretionary diversions from Lake Michigan; and
  • Create local benefits sufficient to facilitate local cost sharing.

Consensus recommendations developed by the CAWS-AC will be provided to elected and appointed federal, state, and local officials and the public.

The CAWS-AC currently is evaluating various scenarios that combine specialized locks and fixed barriers at alternative locations in the CAWS to reduce the risk of ANS transfer between the basins. The locks under consideration would consist of ANS control measures (e.g., screening, chemical treatment, electric barriers) installed within or adjacent to lock structures that would continue to allow vessel traffic and passage. The fixed barriers would consist of obstructions placed in the waterway (e.g., earthen berms, sheet pile, concrete) that would physically separate water bodies and prevent vessel movement past the barrier location. The committee is evaluating long-term scenarios involving two lock systems, two physical barriers, or one lock system and one barrier installed at two locations within the CAWS.

At its April 9 meeting, the CAWS-AC considered the potential risk reduction offered by each scenario. A technical report prepared for the AC by HDR Engineering indicates that two locks would reduce the risk of ANS transfer through the CAWS by approximately 75% and two fixed barriers would reduce the risk of ANS transfer by approximately 95%. A combination of one lock and one physical barrier would reduce the risk of ANS transfer through the CAWS by some amount between these two estimates. If existing structural and non-structural ANS controls are considered in combination with these scenarios, greater potential risk reduction is likely.

The CAWS-AC also considered the impact of potential ANS controls on the movement of cargo in and through the CAWS at the April 9 meeting. HDR’s technical report indicates that two locks would increase the cost of transportation on the CAWS by less than $1 million per year by 2020. Two permanent barriers, on the other hand, would increase annual transportation costs by as much as $200 million to $520 million by 2020. A combination of a lock and a physical barrier likely would result in an intermediate level of additional cost.

As noted above, the degree of risk reduction and potential transportation impacts are only two factors that may be considered by the CAWS-AC in developing consensus recommendations. Other factors include the potential impacts on flooding in NE Illinois and NW Indiana, and the potential impact on water quality in the CAWS and in the Great Lakes (including the potential for contaminated sediment in the CAWS to reach the lakes). An additional consideration that has been raised is the potential that companies on the CAWS with NPDES permits would have to meet stricter discharge limitations if permanent barriers are constructed.

The next CAWS-AC meeting is scheduled for June 3 in Chicago. The committee has targeted late fall 2015 for finalizing consensus recommendations.