The northernmost lock on the Mississippi River is scheduled to close within a year, due to a provision in the recently enacted Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRDA) of 2014. The implication for other locks remains to be seen.

Section 2010 of the act orders the closing of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam at Mississippi River mile 853.9 in Minneapolis, Minn. Proponents of the move say it’s to protect the waterway from Asian carp, though there’s no mention of the menacing fish in that particular section of the river. Carp are cited elsewhere in a portion of the law that encourages a multiagency effort to slow the spread of the fish in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins.

“Minnesota must win the battle to keep invasive carp out of our waterways. Closing this lock represents an important step in that fight,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who pushed for the provision, said in a statement. The state natural resources commissioner, an anti-carp coalition, and boating, fishing and tourism industry interests supported the provision. 

The closing has “very little to do with Asian carp. They’ve been trying to get rid of river-dependent industries. Asian carp was just the newest weapon,” said Greg Genz, president of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association, St. Paul.

He expects businesses that now use barges to instead make several hundred truck trips a day to haul material. The association earlier said shutting the lock would eliminate 127 jobs and mean an annual loss of more than $40 million in wages and output. 

And while “Asian carp” was not included in the law’s closing language, “it’s still a precedent,” Genz said.

“Nobody wants Asian carp to spread. Unfortunately, things weren’t able to be worked out, and we got what we got,” said Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services in St. Paul, Minn. “We will no longer run up there,” he said of the terminal his barges serviced. “I’m guardedly optimistic we’ll still be able to move some of that tonnage.”

A 2012 report by the Metropolitan Council in St. Paul on the economic impact of the closing referred to a 1999 plan by local boards to significantly transform a heavy industrial area served by rail and barge to new residential neighborhoods and park frontage on both sides of the river. But this vision has been tempered somewhat because “eminent domain power is no longer available for redevelopment, so success is dependent upon willing sellers,” the report said.

Exactly when the lock will close depends on guidance from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters, said Patrick Moes, spokesman for the Corps’ St. Paul district. 

Three locks — Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls and Lock and Dam 1 work as a single system, he said. “We don’t have the authority to systematically close a lock.”

The Corps can control the level of service and hours, which were cut at all three locks in March 2013, a Corps information paper noted. “There continues to be interest to further reduce hours of operation and limit recreational lockages at these three locks to control the spread of Asian carp.” 

Silver carp were spotted at Lock & Dam 6 at mile 714.3 last summer, Moes said.

In operation since 1963, the Upper St. Anthony lock handled 821,200 tons in 2013 compared to 686,500 in 2009, according to the Corps. In 2000 the lock handled 2.2 million tons.

The biggest battle over Asian carp has been in the Chicago area where some want to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River Basin. 

Carp in the Great Lakes would threaten the $7 billion fishing and tourism industries. But severing the waterways would cost the barge, passenger vessel, chemical, agricultural and other industries billions as well.

The Corps has installed electronic barriers in the area to try to stop the fish from reaching the lakes.  

— Dale K. DuPont