WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Keep Brandon Road Costs In Check 

The current Water Resources Development Act is in conference, where differences between the House and Senate versions are being worked out. One important question concerns the proposed Brandon Road Lock & Dam Interbasin Project on the Illinois Waterway in Joliet, Ill., designed to keep invasive Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan. Under strong political pressure from Great Lakes elected officials, Congress picked the most expensive option offered by the Corps, an “all of the above” solution for Brandon Road that uses several anti-carp measures with possible built-in redundancies. Some of the proposed measures have more problematic effects on navigation than others. The towing industry is most concerned about the use of an electric field to stun carp. Other proposed measures include an acoustic barrier, a fish bubbler and a flushing lock, as well as intensive harvesting of carp on the waterway side of the barrier.  

The Senate’s version of WRDA increases the federal cost-share of this project to 90 percent. The Alliance for the Great Lakes has called for the federal government to pay 100 percent. It’s unclear whether any of these federal funds will be drawn from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. So far, the Corps has received $226 million in start funds to the Brandon Road project, courtesy of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. According to the project’s website, that’s enough to pay for Increment 1, about a quarter of the current estimated total project cost. Increment II’s estimated costs are $552 million, and Increment III’s are $93 million, for an overall total project estimate of $858 million. 

Increment 1 alone will cost $212 million. That phase or increment includes prepping the site, excavating channel rock, installing an air bubble curtain and a narrow acoustic deterrent array and building a control building and upstream boat launch. It’s estimated to take between four and five years. 

The Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center is currently testing and evaluating some measures that will be part of the proposed solution. At Mississippi River Lock and Dam 19, ERDC is engaged in a three-year test of an acoustic deterrent system that targets carp at least partly selectively—that is, its acoustic deterrent is targeted at carp’s hearing range. It’s not completely species-specific, but it does leave most other fish species alone and doesn’t disrupt navigation. 

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On June 10, the Rock Island Engineer District announced on Facebook that its employees viewed a prototype bubbler system before it is installed at the Peoria Lock in Creve Coeur, Ill., to study its effects on invasive carp species. This study is shared between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The bubbler system is an attempt to flush out invasive species from behind and in between boats/barges as they pass through the lock. 

The creation of the Chicago Area Waterways System, whose 100 miles connect the inland waterways with the Great Lakes, remains one of the great engineering feats of the 20th century. During the debate over Asian carp, not a few voices were raised in support of closing it off altogether. 

It’s been a long time since we’ve read any scare stories about individual carp being found near Brandon Road. That may be evidence that the existing electric barriers upstream of Brandon Road are already doing an adequate job. 

On the project website, the Corps calls the Brandon Road project a “risk-informed aquatic nuisance species control strategy.” We hope this means that the Corps can scale back measures that are shown to be less effective, to avoid unnecessary redundancy. If inflation continues at anything like its current rate, it is likely to change all these cost estimates. We hope the costs of the Brandon Road project won’t spiral out of control, diverting resources from other necessary waterways infrastructure projects.