By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter
A House natural resources committee on Wednesday, Feb. 1 heard a legislative proposal from Rep. Tom Hackbarth that could place three electronic barriers on the Mississippi River to block the spread of Asian carp.
Hackbarth, a Republican from Cedar, is looking for $13 million to erect electronic fish barriers at the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock in Minneapolis, Lock No. 1 at the Ford Dam in St. Paul, and at the more challenging Lock and Dam No. 2 in Hastings.
“We need to do this now,” Hackbarth urged fellow committee members.
Testifying with Hackbarth was engineer Geoffrey Griffin of G-Cubed, a former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staffer who has engineered electronic fish barriers in Minnesota. “They’re (Asian carp) not going to get through my barriers,” Griffin said.
Griffin estimates the cost of constructing electronic lock barriers, which involves cement work and placing a series of electrodes, at $3.5 million apiece for Lock No. 1 and Upper St. Anthony Falls. He estimates annual operating costs at $3,500.
Lock masters would turn the electronic barriers on when opening the locks to receive river traffic, he said. Fish, when caught in the electronic fields, experience stiffening muscles and ultimately are washed downstream by the current, Griffin said.
The frequency pulsed DC electronic fields are not harmful to humans, he said. “It’s a tingling,” Griffin said of coming in contact with the electronic field, “but it’s non-lethal.”
Hackbarth’s legislation would also place an electronic lock barrier at Lock and Dam No. 2 in Hastings.
“I think it makes absolute sense that the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers are both protected,” Hackbarth said. The Hastings’ lock and dam is down river of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.
Because the locks at Hastings are bigger than upstream, the cost of constructing the electronic lock barrier is more — $6 million, Griffin said.
Beyond this, because there’s only about a 12-foot water level difference between the upstream and downstream river at the site, flood waters can get over the structure, he noted. So a lock electric barrier at Hastings alone would not be a 100 percent effective, Griffin said.
Still, Griffin also proposed the construction of a $20 million electric high water flow, dike barrier for Hastings.
Hackbarth views the $20 million as a bondable cost, and looks for the $13 million for the other electronic lock barrier improvements elsewhere.
He cites the possibility of $4 million from the federal transportation department, though these dollars, according to committee Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, could only be used at the upper two locks.
Professor Peter Sorensen of the University of Minnesota, a biologist who has done extensive research on controlling common carp and looking for financing to start an exotic species research facility at the university, deemed constructing the electronic lock barriers “a judicious move.” It’s a means of gaining a little time, he said.
“We’re a little bit late,” Sorensen said of Minnesota addressing the issue of Asian carp. “But we’re not too late.”
In detailing differences between common and Asian carp, Sorensen said that unlike common carp, which root in the muck for food, Asian carp are filter feeders. That is, they filter plankton and tiny bits of food out of the water and actually, during certain times of the year, improve water clarity.
“It’s a mixed bag,” he said of the biological characteristics of the carp. Asian carp have a highly attuned sense of hearing — much, much sharper than most fish, he noted. He believe it’s noise that causes silver Asian carp to famously leap.
Sorensen, using the electronic tracking of common carp, discovered the carp for some reason in a lake study aggregated into an area the size of a football field at a certain time of year — an idea moment to apply poison, he noted.
Carp have other weakness, he said. For instance, other fish, particularly bluegills, eat carp eggs “like candy.”
That could be a compelling area to study in carp control, Sorensen said.
Asian carp will use drainage ditches, Sorensen added. But he couldn’t say whether they’d also swim through culverts like common carp will.
The most time consuming part of getting the electronic barriers in place, Griffin said, is less construction but obtaining the necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
It was suggested that an appeal to President Barack Obama’s Asian carp czar John Goss be made to speed up action with Army Corps.