TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Groups representing states and cities in the Great Lakes region initiated a $2 million study yesterday of how to slam the door on exotic species such as Asian carp by cutting links between the lakes and the Mississippi River watershed.
The 18-month project will develop options for physically separating the two water systems. They were joined artificially a century ago with the creation of a Chicago-area waterway that has helped destructive invaders such as zebra mussels spread as far west as California.
“Ecological separation is the only way we’re going to permanently protect against invasive species,’’ said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, which represents eight states adjoining the lakes. “Everything short of that is likely to fail.’’
The US Army Corps of Engineers has promised to investigate separation as part of a long-range analysis of exotic species movement between the two water systems. But that could take several years, while advocates of separation want quicker action.
More than 180 foreign species have infested the lakes, and the commission estimates annual economic losses at $5.7 billion.
Bighead and silver carp pose the latest threat. Imported from Asia in the early 1970s to clear algae from Southern fish farms and sewage plants, they escaped into the Mississippi and have migrated northward.
Separating the water systems probably would require approval of Congress — which would provide much of the funding — as well as state and local officials.