CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. agencies, under pressure from congressional critics to find a permanent solution to the onrushing tide of invasive Asian carp headed toward the Great Lakes, promised on Tuesday to give Congress options to combat the carp next year.
The administration's Asian Carp Director, John Goss, said the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies involved in the fight against the prolific Bighead and Silver Carp would propose options in 2013, two years ahead of schedule.
One of the options would permanently separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds.
The carp, which escaped into the Mississippi from fish lagoons during flooding, have infested many of the river's tributaries and swum within 55 miles of a network of man-made waterways in Chicago that connect to Lake Michigan.
If the carp, which can grow to more than 100 pounds (45 kg), make their way into the lakes, scientists fear they would devour the bottom of the food chain and crowd out other fish species. They could ruin the lakes' $7 billion fishery and potentially hurt water quality by promoting the growth of toxic algae.
"This new step will result in a more focused path forward that could mean faster implementation of a permanent solution for protecting our Great Lakes from Asian carp," Goss said in a statement.
The agencies have already spent $150 million to create electrified barriers, for monitoring, and to study methods of deterring or killing the carp.
A long-term study with a detailed comparative analysis of various methods to stop the carp was due to be completed in 2015. By proposing options earlier, the study can avoid wasted effort, U.S. officials said.
"This is a good step forward in the fight to stop Asian carp," said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who has introduced legislation demanding a solution within 18 months.
The electric barrier lost power temporarily last week, Stabenow said.
Five states bordering on the Great Lakes - Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania - have filed a federal lawsuit, demanding quicker action on separating the two watersheds.
An independent study proposed a variety of hydrological separation alternatives in the Chicago region that would cost between $3 billion and $9 billion.
(Reporting By Andrew Stern; editing by Todd Eastham)