When the snow melts, and when heavy spring rains arrive and water levels rise, Dickinson County will be prepared.
Invasive Asian silver carp should no longer able to enter the Iowa Great Lakes because of a fully operational electric fish barrier.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and area protective associations worked together on funding and logistics. The basic structure, electrical hookups and computer software were online beginning Feb. 5. Construction of the barrier began in October 2012.
“(The whole project) has been really fast. It may not seem so on the outside,” Northwest Iowa DNR Fisheries Biologist Mike Hawkins said. “But the phases have moved fast, and we had a great fall. We were able to do it a lot more efficiently.”
Extensive rains over the summer of 2011 allowed Asian silver carp to swim upstream along the Little Sioux River and into the Iowa Great Lakes system. In March 2012, a group of commercial fishermen caught a dozen of the invasive species. The electric barrier should prevent the next potential influx of the invasive species if the waters rise again.
Asian Carp are a threat to the Lakes system; they are known as the “jumping” fish, because of their ability to use vibrations to jump high out of the water– often interfering with boaters and water sports enthusiasts. They also are a danger to the ecosystem of the lakes, overtaking the habitats and pushing out other species.
Hawkins said the barrier is ready to go if the threat of high waters returns.
“It’s mostly just site detail that is left – safety signage and working on making it safe and secure,” he said. “A few things need to be done on site. We will put up a cable fence around the parking lot.”
Hawkins mentioned plans to install an information kiosk nearby for residents and guests to read up on what the barrier is and why it is there.
The barrier extends the width of the dam, just below it at the Lower Gar Outlet – approximately 21 feet. Seven electrodes are connected throughout the base of the structure and will send electric pulses through the water when it is activated. The charge will not kill the Asian carp or any other species – but it will numb and discourage the fish from swimming up stream. The barrier will not always be active – sensors will be in place for safety and energy efficiency.
“There’s a water level sensor on the barrier, using sound,” Hawkins said. “We are able to monitor it remotely, and if it reaches a certain level, we can turn on the barrier.”
Hawkins said he is extremely grateful of the support the community and other organizations have shown.
Dickinson County cities along the shoreline, the DNR, local lake protective associations and other organizations donated thousands of dollars to help reach the $700,000 plateau. The Minnesota DNR stepped in to help out with the remaining funds for the barrier.
“We had a great partner in the Minnesota DNR and a great deal of funding came from the county as well,” he said. “A whole number of different entities cooperated and we had a big push locally.”
Hawkins is hoping the barrier will impact the community and the Lakes in more ways than one.
“(It stops) the threat, of course. This is our insurance policy; we are not sure what the future holds,” he said. “There are also other things to worry about (concerning the Asian carp); they can be devastating to the Lakes. This should be a block that they shouldn’t be able to increase in numbers – it will be active the next time the water comes.”