The funding for an electric fish barrier to stop Asian silver carp from swimming into the lakes has now surpassed the $600,000 mark. The estimated total cost is projected somewhere in the $700,000 range.
Last week, Milford, Wahpeton, Okoboji, Orleans and West Okoboji each committed $10,000 to the fish barrier funds. Previously, Spirit Lake and Arnolds Park donated $10,000. In March, the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors voted to provide $50,000 to the project. In addition, the Iowa DNR has decided to commit $300,000 to the barrier.
Local lakes protective associations, the Okoboji Tourism Committee fishing clubs and foundation grants have come together to contribute $200,000. And most recently, the Okoboji Foundation reached a decision to add an additional $40,000 to the funding.
All the cities in Dickinson County that share shoreline with the Iowa Great Lakes have committed funds to the project. In addition, East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation -- a lake protective association -- has committed $6,600 to the fish barrier.
"We are moving past the $600,000," said Phil Petersen, executive director of the Iowa Great Lakes Association. "We are very close to achieving our $700,000 goal for the electric fish barrier. But that number was only an estimate, so we are still interested in receiving additional funding to be sure we have the necessary funds."
Conservation officials still don't know how many silver carp have found refuge in the Iowa Great Lakes. Electric barrier supports say the uncertainty is another reason to put a barrier in place. If another large rainstorm hits the area and the waters rise over the dams, even more of the invasive species could move into the lakes.
Last month, a commercial fishing company caught 55 silver carp and 82 big head carp, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The commercial fishing company was in the same area of East Okoboji Lake where two big head carp were netted last August by the Iowa DNR during a survey.
Severe flooding along the Missouri River in 2011 allowed the invasive species to swim upstream and over the Linn Grove Dam and work their way toward the Dickinson County chain of lakes.
"Now that bighead and Asian silver carp have been found in the Iowa Great Lakes and we have most of the money, our attention turns to helping the DNR proceed with finishing the design, selecting a contractor, and proceed with the building of the electric fish barrier," Petersen said.
Asian silver carp are known for jumping out of the water and causing a threat to boaters. Vibrations from the motors of boats and jet-skis cause the carp to launch themselves out of the water, creating possible obstructions. In some cases, the silver carp have grown to be three feet in length and weigh 60 pounds.
The Lower Gar Lake outlet is the proposed site for the fish barrier and Petersen is working with local DNR officials to speed up the bidding process.
Once in place, the barrier would only shock or stun to the fish, encouraging them to head back downstream. Electrodes for the barrier are not actually placed in the water and the charge won't be strong enough to kill the fish. In addition, the electric barrier is not considered a threat to humans.
"The DNR needs to proceed very quickly to complete the design, select a contractor, negotiate a contract and begin construction before any more Asian carp can enter the Iowa Great Lakes," Petersen said.
Boaters aren't in immediate danger. It is difficult for the silver carp to reproduce in a lake environment. The eggs must be able to float to spawn and in a lake, the water does not circulate enough to keep the eggs afloat.
"At some point gonna find more (silver carp)," Petersen said. "But we haven't had any reports of multiple fish jumping out of the water at the same time, but we are getting closer and closer to boating season."