MARSHALL - It looks on the surface like a simple case of neighbor helping neighbor but don't blame the state of Minnesota for having a bit of an ulterior motive behind its decision to provide financial help to Iowa in efforts to fight invasive carp there. The plan is simple: Shut down carp in Iowa so they don't become a problem in Minnesota.
The Des Moines Register reported Thursday that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is providing $261,000 to help Iowa set up a $1 million electrical barrier atop Lower Gar Lake dam. The dam has an outlet to Mill Creek, which runs into the Little Sioux River, whose watershed includes several southwest Minnesota lakes.
"All this came about because the carp came up the Missouri River through the Iowa Great Lakes, and obviously Minnesota doesn't want any of those Asian carp in Minnesota," said Ryan Doorenbos, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Windom. "Iowa was looking at doing an electric barrier at the outlet of the Iowa Great Lakes, and this is an opportunity for some collaboration between the states to basically wage war on these Asian carp."
Extreme southern Minnesota - the area just north of the Spirit Lake, Iowa, barrier location - already has lakes in Jackson and Nobles counties that have been designated as infested. In March, commercial fishermen caught more than 80 bighead and 55 silver carp in the same general area in East Okoboji Lake in northwest Iowa. Invasive carp present a number of problematic issues and can devastate lakes, rivers and streams. The large fish - the leaping silver can get up to 50 pounds - reproduce quickly and consume large quantities of food, causing fear among experts they could crowd out native species and create ecological problems for Iowa's chain of glacial lakes.
Three potential infiltration routes from Iowa are being studied by the DNR: one from the Iowa Great Lakes via Little Spirit Lake, which connects with several lakes in Minnesota, another the Little Sioux River, which starts in Minnesota and flows down the west side of the Iowa Great Lakes before reaching the Missouri River, and the third near Luverne in the Rock River watershed. The Rock River flows south into Iowa and hooks up with the Big Sioux River, which connects with the Missouri.
Doorenbos said taking care of matters at the Iowa Great Lakes can go a long way toward benefiting Minnesota.
"Because it's at the outlet of the Iowa Great Lakes, it's going to protect Minnesota waters," Doorenbos said. "This is an opportunity to help us possibly take of things sooner rather than later."
Doorenbos told the Independent in May that the notoriously strong-swimming invasives could realistically use the Rock and Little Sioux rivers as a highway into the region.
He said the interconnectivity between dredge ditches, tile lines and watersheds increases the chances of Asian carp finding their way into Minnesota lakes. The lakes that are upstream of the Iowa Great Lakes that are under watch in southern Minnesota include Loon, Pearl, Rush and Clear. The west branch of the Little Sioux River comes into Minnesota near the Iowa Great Lakes and ultimately includes a series of wetlands and Wildlife Protection Areas in Minnesota.
Doorenbos said the electronic barrier in Iowa could be in place and functioning sometime in December, which is important since invasive carp are triggered by high water flows which typically occur in mid-spring.
"If it's ready to go for next spring," he said, "it's our chance to stop any new fish from coming into the system."