The fish that inspired a billion-dollar project near the US Great Lakes

There are countless good reasons to build something: lack of housing, updating outdated infrastructure, repairing damage, just to name a few. And now add ‘invasive fish” to that shortlist, as the US State of Illinois, along with the US federal government, and the State of Michigan, have agreed to fund a US$1.15 billion construction project that will curtail invasive carp from the Great Lakes.

Brandon Road Interbasin Project (Image: US Army Corps of Engineers) A 2D render of the Brandon Road Interbasin Project in Joliet, Illinois, US. (Image: US Army Corps of Engineers)

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Rock Island District, is managing the scheme, which officially got approval – after decades of discussion.

Named the Brandon Road Interbasin Project, the scheme aims to install a layered system or ‘gantlet’ at a key pinch point in the Des Plaines River near Joliet, Illinois; about 40 miles (64km) southwest of Chicago, and an estuary into Lake Michigan (one of five connected Great Lakes in the US Upper Midwest).

The gantlet system would deter silver and bighead carp (the two unwanted species) from moving up the stream and into the massive network of freshwater lakes that spans more than 94,000 sq mi (244,000km2).

Environmentalists and outdoor recreation agencies say the two species – which are native to Asia – have few natural predators in the Great Lakes and can disrupt the lakes’ ecosystems and billion-dollar fishing and boating industries.

At a lock and dam in Joliet, infrastructure for an acoustic deterrent and an underwater ‘air-bubble curtain’ will serve as an initial deterrent. Fish that make it beyond the curtain will face an engineered channel that will include additional acoustic barriers and an electric barrier, with the carp eventually sent back downstream via a flushing dock.

When will work on the Brandon Road Interbasin Project start?
A trio of silver carp. (Image: Adobe Stock) A trio of silver carp. These fish, invasive to the US, inspired a US$1-billion project to limit their spread. (Image: Adobe Stock)

With an agreement signed, contracts for fabrication, design, and bedrock removal are expected to go out in the coming weeks, said the USACE.

Illinois officials expect construction to start in 2025.

The federal government is expected to pay for 90% of costs associated with construction as well as 90% of costs for operations and maintenance after construction.

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