Newsroom Midwest Region

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers     
Chicago District

Date: August 12, 2009
Contact:  Lynne Whelan
Telephone:  (312) 846-5330

Corps of Engineers increasing electric barrier operating parameters

Chicago - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today that it plans to increase the operating parameters for the electric fish dispersal barrier system in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville, Ill. The barrier system is designed to deter the passage of invasive species, especially Asian carp, between the Great Lakes and Illinois River watersheds.

"As part of a continuing review process of Asian carp migration and the barrier system, the Army Corps of Engineers developed a multi-pronged strategy we have been applying since this spring," said Maj. Gen. John Peabody, Commander of the Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.

As a result of that review, the Corps of Engineers concluded that information on the Asian carp was uncertain and inadequate and so took action to ramp up its Asian carp monitoring program. They sought to validate the conclusions of previous independent research that four volts-per-inch is required to repel fish from the barrier, and also examined the ability to operate the barrier at higher voltage levels. Currently they are examining what it would take to make the third part of the barrier system, IIB, operational next year. These efforts have resulted in improved knowledge of Asian carp location and optimal operating parameters.

The Corps of Engineers made the decision to increase operating parameters based on the latest, best information available, including results from preliminary genetic water testing obtained July 31, 2009 which indicate that Asian carp are closer to the barrier than previously thought. Environmental or "e" DNA is a surveillance tool that tests for the genetic presence of a specific species of fish in water.

"In recent months we have worked with the barrier advisory panel to enhance our monitoring program. We became aware of this new eDNA technology in May and added it to our monitoring tool box by June," said Colonel Vincent Quarles, Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District. While eDNA is a strong indicator of Asian carp presence, no physical Asian carp specimens have been found above the Brandon Road Lock, despite intensive electro-fishing efforts.

Recent research undertaken at the Corps of Engineers research laboratory indicates that the optimal operating parameters are two volts per inch, 15 Hertz frequency and 6.5 milliseconds pulse rate. These are the new operating parameters which will be applied to Barrier IIA once operational preparations are complete.

"We need to reset the bar on how we look at optimal operating parameters. Previous studies only looked at voltage changes.  These new studies have shown that the right combination of voltage, frequency and pulse rate is what we need to determine the most effective operating parameters," Quarles said. The Corps will continue studying the impacts of varying operating parameters on the behavior of Asian carp, especially on juvenile fish, to confirm current information and refine corresponding actions.

The Corps has worked collaboratively with partner agencies including the US Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a barrier advisory panel consisting of many subject matter experts and others to arrive at this decision.

"Once we received the genetic testing results on July 31st, we immediately began making preparations to be able to increase the operating parameters," Peabody said. "The earliest we could make the changes was this Friday, so we used the available time to consult with other state and federal agencies and partners. It is clear to us that this is the appropriate action."

To prepare the barrier for the increase, the Corps of Engineers began operational preparations of the equipment at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Aug.12, 2009. "It is paramount that we are able to sustain continuous operations of Barrier IIA in order to deter further migration of the Asian carp," said Quarles. "To achieve that, we have developed thorough preparation procedures to ensure we
can reliably increase the operating parameters." Operational preparations are expected to be complete by Friday, Aug. 14 but will continue until any bugs are worked out to finalize barrier preparation activities. In coordination with the Coast Guard, the Army Corps will begin navigation safety tests at the new operating parameters as early as practicable. The timing of the increase is tied to the barrier contractor's ability to change the parameters in a safe manner.

To ensure public safety during these tests the U.S. Coast Guard will close the canal to all navigation traffic from approximately 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily on Aug. 12 through Aug. 14 or until operational testing of the barrier has concluded.  During operational and safety testing, the Coast Guard will be enforcing a safety zone encompassing all waters of the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal from mile marker 296.0 to mile marker 296.7.  No person or vessel may enter the safety zone unless authorized by the Captain of the Port or the on-scene Patrol Commander. Closure times are approximate and are dependent on the test performance of the barrier system.

There may be breaks in testing where boaters may be allowed to transit through the area, but there are no set times for those breaks. Notification of planned breaks will be made through Broadcast Notice to Mariners. However, even during these break periods, permission must be requested from the Captain of the Port or on-scene Patrol Commander prior to transiting.

"While the barrier must prevent invasive species from migrating into Lake Michigan; the very real risk it poses to the lives and health of the many recreational and commercial waterways users who regularly pass near and over it must also be minimized," said Capt. Luann Barndt, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan. "The Coast Guard is committed to taking the necessary steps to maintaining navigability and reducing safety risks while supporting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' mission to prevent invasive, nuisance species from entering the Great Lakes."

The Corps will continue to work with the Coast Guard to assess safety hazards and mitigate impacts to commercial and recreational boaters at this higher operating level.

When the canal is open to traffic, boaters are reminded to exercise extreme caution while traveling in the barrier area and follow directions of the Captain of the Port and the on-scene Patrol Commander. Boaters are also advised to remain seated, stay out of the water, keep hands and feet out of the water and closely supervise children and pets or send them below deck. Do not to linger or attempt to moor in the restricted area.

Information about the barrier project and instructions for safely transiting the area can be found at Additional information on planned waterway closures and other Coast Guard information can be found at

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