blueback herring

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“Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply

Posted by on 01 Oct 2018 | Tagged as: Ashuelot River, Bellows Falls, blueback herring, canal shad, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, crippled ecosystem, Dead Reach, ecosystem, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, FERC license, FirstLight, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, fish counts, fish kill, fish kill on the Connecticut, fish passage, fishway windows, Holyoke Fish Lift, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, nuclear power, PSP Investments, Public Law 98-138, pumped storage, Relicensing, resident river fish, Saxtons River, Scott Pruitt, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Society of Environmental Journalists, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Digger, Vermont Yankee

Copyright © 2018 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: the following piece appeared in VTDigger, www.vtdigger.org in September under the heading “Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply when crippling an ecosystem.”

TERMS OF ENTRAINMENT: a Connecticut River History


NOTE:in this photo are over 170 juvenile shad, among the many thousands killed in the recent de-watering of the Turners Falls Power Canal. The power canal is where the bulk of the Connecticut River is diverted into for most months of the year. So, when they drain it, they are killing the river. However, if you look at this photo and multiply that death toll by 10,000 you begin to get some idea of the mortality counts for young-of-the-year shad entrained annually–and un-tallied across nearly five decades, at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. (CLICK, then CLICK twice more to enlarge photos.)

At 2:41 p.m. on May 20, 2018, a lone blueback herring appeared in the windows at Turners Falls Dam among a school of larger American shad. It was a small miracle. Barely a foot long, it was the first blueback here since 2005, and there would not be another this spring. Like those shad, its life had already spanned four springs, swimming thousands of ocean miles in shimmering schools. It re-crossed bays and estuaries of seven states and two provinces before reaching this Connecticut River juncture. In doing so it had survived sprawling drift nets and repeated attacks from sharks, bluefish, spiny dogfish, cormorants, seals and striped bass.

All these fish were seeking to spawn and give their young a head start as far upriver as currents, time and temperature would allow. Unfortunately, five miles upstream sat the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, a river vacuuming machine capable of out-killing all their natural predators. For the next 20 miles they’d be vulnerable to its impacts.

NMPS has inhaled river fish of all species and sizes daily for nearly half a century. Results from a river sampling study Juvenile Shad Assessment in the Connecticut River, were released in June by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. They estimated NMPS’s 2017 operations resulted in losses of some 15 million shad eggs and larvae, plus the deaths of between 1 and 2-1/2 million juvenile shad. That’s for just one species.

On April 20, 1967, years before Northfield was built, federal agencies and four states signed the Statement of Intent for a Cooperative Fishery Restoration Program for the Connecticut River, agreeing to restore runs of American shad, salmon and blueback herring upstream to Bellows Falls, Vermont and beyond. The migratory shortnose sturgeon had already been listed as endangered. Continuing today under Public Law 98-138, its mandate requires utilization of “the full potential of the fishery resources of the Connecticut River including both anadromous and resident species,” providing “high quality sport fishing,” and meeting “the long term needs of the population for seafood.”

American shad are still commercially fished today just 60 miles downriver. They’ve provided seafood to this valley for ages, yet most people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts don’t know they were promised a “just share of the fishery harvest” back in 1967. All remain without, while shad continue to grace dinner and restaurant tables in Connecticut every spring.

Running on imported power via the buy-low/sell-high model, Northfield can suck the river into reverse for up to a mile downstream. It devours everything captured in that vortex at 15,000 cubic feet per second. Think 15,000 milk crates, for hours, to fill a 5 billion gallon mountain reservoir. The result is 100% mortality for all fish entrained. During peak-use and/or peak-price times—or both, it sends the deadened water back through its turbines as twice-produced electricity.

NOTE: more of the TF Canal kill here in another location–including mostly juvenile shad, but also a bluegill, several mud-puppies, and a young sea lamprey. Again, this is just a whisper of the year round fish kill occurring upstream at Northfield Mountain.

Northfield was built to run off Vermont Yankee’s excess nuclear megawatts. But even after VY closed in 2014, its carnage continued, unchallenged, rather than being relegated to emergency use. Having never produced a watt of its own power, its 46 years of accumulating carnage are yet to be tallied. That herring might have been heading for New Hampshire’s Ashuelot or Vermont’s Saxtons River, and those shad were perhaps steering for the Great Eddy at Bellows Falls. Regardless, any progeny would later face Northfield’s net-loss-power impacts heading downriver come fall.

Currently it pumps mostly at night when Canadian owners PSP Investments can purchase cheap electricity to suction the river uphill. Later it’s released as second-hand juice at peak-of-the-day profits. Promoters claim the benefits of dispersed solar and wind power can’t be realized without first relaying their renewable energy across the region to this lethal storage machine for later resale in markets far beyond the Connecticut Valley. “Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply when crippling an ecosystem.

NMPS boosters include (now-former) EPA Director Scott Pruitt, who made a sweetheart visit there last Valentine’s Day along with Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Neil Chatterjee. That occurred as PSP was requesting to suction yet more water from the Connecticut and applying for a new long-term FERC license. The next day FERC announced a major policy shift, potentially increasing both Northfield’s daytime use and its profits.

Since an 1872 landmark Supreme Court ruling indemnifying Holyoke Dam, all hydro facilities have been required to safely pass the public’s fish, upstream and down. But that 1967 agreement had this warning: “Based on the present fragmentary data available on the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, it appears that this project poses definite limitations to an anadromous fish restoration program. These limitations involve the physical loss of eggs, larvae and young fish of both resident and anadromous species, and an orientation problem for both upstream and downstream migrants attributed to pumping large volumes of water.” Today the 20 mile reach hosting Northfield remains a migration minefield—while some 30 miles of open Vermont/New Hampshire spawning habitat above Vernon Dam sits essentially empty.

Holyoke Dam has annually lifted hundreds of thousands of shad and herring upstream since the 1970s. In 2017 it recorded its second highest shad numbers ever, 537,000 fish. Each spring, half or more of those shad attempt to pass Turners Falls. Less than 10-in-100 will succeed. Of those, some 50% drop from tallies and are never re-counted at Vernon Dam after entering the 20 miles impacted by Northfield. The blueback herring record at Turners Falls was 9,600 in 1986, out of the 517,000 counted 36 miles downstream at Holyoke that year. Of those 9,600 Turners herrings, just 94 reached Vernon Dam. Turners Falls saw another 7,500 blueback herring in 1991; just 383 reappeared upstream at Vernon.

Any new long-term FERC license must comply with federal and state law protecting endangered and public-trust fish. In seeking a new license, PSP’s main proposal for limiting Northfield’s massive carnage has been the test-anchoring of a few yards of Kevlar netting in the riverbed in front of the plant’s suction-and-surge tunnel. Those flag-sized yards of mesh, after a few months deployment, are supposed to effectively model how a 1,000 foot-long “exclusion net”–deployed seasonally in the river over the next decades, might halt the entrainment deaths of out-migrating adult–and millions of juvenile young-of-the year fish, heading back to the sea. Presumably, Northfield’s mouth would remain wide open to the ecosystem’s fish throughout the rest of the year.

In light of longstanding research the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission have set shad passage goals requiring that a minimum of 397,000 pass Turners Falls; and a minimum of 226,000 pass Vernon Dam. It’s a certainty that a new fish lift will be required at Turners Falls under any new license, modeled on the long-term success of Holyoke’s lifts. But the ultimate question is this: can Northfield comply with federal and state law protecting the four-state ecosystem’s fish in order to be granted a new FERC license?

END

Karl Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

ONE LAST CHANCE FOR THE CONNECTICUT RIVER

Posted by on 03 Sep 2018 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC licensing process, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, PSP Investments, Rock Dam Pool, shad, Society of Environmental Journalists, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Yankee, Vernon Dam Fishway, Walpole

ONE LAST CHANCE FOR THE CONNECTICUT RIVER

Copyright © 2018, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Empty CT River bed below Turners Falls Dam on September 2, 2018 (CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN, to ENLARGE)

Northfield MA. On Wednesday, September 5, 2018, New England gets one final chance for a restored Connecticut River ecosystem, promised by federal and state fisheries agencies way back in 1967. That’s the day when the National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service and MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife meet at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project for precedent-setting, backroom settlement negotiations to decide the ultimate fate of this ecosystem–long-crippled by the impacts of Northfield’s river-suctioning, power re-generation. They will be representing the public on behalf of New England’s Great River against the interests of FirstLight/PSP Investments of Canada, latest venture capital owners of NMPS. Future generations deserve the living river system promised here long ago.

Closed river gates at Turners Falls Dam, September 2, 2018. (CLICK, the CLICK AGAIN to ENLARGE)

The last time similar negotiations took place was in the 1970s when the agencies misplaced their priorities and Northfield’s nuclear-powered (NMPS was built to run off the excess megawatts produced by the now-closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, 15 miles upstream) assault on the river was ignored, scuttling prospects for a river restoration in Vermont, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts. Those negotiations led to federal fish hatcheries and ladders for an extinct salmon strain, leaving miles of the Connecticut emptied of flow in Massachusetts, while all migratory shad, blueback herring and lamprey were forced into the industrial labyrinth of the Turners Falls power canal. That also succeeded in leaving the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon with no protections at all on its critical spawning ground.

Worst of all back then, the agencies failed to protect migratory and resident fish from the year-round deadly assault of NMPS, which sucks the river backward and uphill at 15,000 cubic feet per second. Its vortex can actually yank the Connecticut’s flow into reverse for up to a mile downstream, pulling everything from tiny shad eggs to juvenile fish and adult eels into its turbines on a certain-death Northfield Mountain Sleigh Ride. A USFWS study found that Northfield killed up to 15 million American shad eggs and swallowed between 1 – 2-1/2 million juvenile shad in 2017.

Northfield’s Canadian owners are seeking a new, generations-long operating license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The relicensing process has now completed its 6th year, with the serious work of safeguarding New England’s largest ecosystem just now coming into focus. This plant is an energy consumer, and has never produced a single watt of its own energy. It’s a bulk-grid power storage and transfer station that can only run for about 6 hours full tilt before it is completely spent and dead in the water. Then, it must go out and suck new virgin power from the bulk grid to begin refilling its reservoir with deadened river water. Its regenerated power is marketed and resold to entities far beyond the borders of the Connecticut River Valley.

New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts have a lot a stake here. Way back in 1967 they were promised a just share of a restored seafood harvest of American shad, all the way upstream to Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH. Safe passage of fish, upstream and down, has been mandated on US rivers since a 1872 Supreme Court case. But no meaningful runs of shad and blueback herring ever materialized upstream of the brutal industrial impacts and flows created at Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Dam. In 1967 when these agencies signed that Cooperative Fisheries Restoration agreement, 750,000 American shad was the target for passage above Vernon Dam to wide-open Vermont and New Hampshire habitats. The best year, 1991, saw just 37,000 fish.

Northfield’s giant Intake and Entrainment Tunnel (CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN to ENLARGE)

As for those shortnose sturgeon? Well, investigations continue to see if there is a remnant of this river’s population surviving upstream near Vernon. But, in Massachusetts their protection from interference and guaranteed spawning access and flows should have been enforced decades back in the 2-1/2 miles below PSP’s Turners Falls dam. But none of the federal and state agencies took action.

And here, the only non-profit river groups on the Connecticut have long been power-company-friendly and connected–and still accepting their corporate money. Other major river systems have watchdogs without ties to the corporations that cripple them–putting staff lawyers and their enforcement commitments and responsibilities front and center. These go to court repeatedly–the only method leading to lasting, meaningful results. Here, no one takes corporations to court for license violations or requirements under the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act. Others might have led a campaign to shut down an ecosystem killing plant the day the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shut down forever in December 2014.

4-barrel floats above a few yards of experimental test netting that’s supposed to emulate how a 1000 foot-long net might be deployed seasonally over the coming decades to keep millions of baby fish from going on a Northfield Mountain Sleigh Ride. (CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN to ENLARGE)

Thus, it is really is now-or-never time on for a living Connecticut River ecosystem. So, the big question is: are the key agencies going to stand firm under federal and state environmental statute and law, and fulfill their mandate on behalf of future generations?

Here are some of the key questions to be decided at the table that will ultimately tell the four-state Connecticut River ecosystem’s future:

Can Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station—which literally kills millions of fish annually, be operated in such a way that it complies with long-standing federal and state environmental law in order to receive a new FERC license?

Will the US Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries require PSP’s operations to cease during critical times in the spawning cycles of the river’s fish—and only operate as an emergency power source at those times, rather than as a net-power loss, buy-low/sell high profit machine? (This happens on other river systems.)

Will National Marine Fisheries require the necessary 6,500 cubic feet per second flows now absent below Turners Falls Dam—from April through June, to protect the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in its critical spawning ground?

Will the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife at last stand up for river protections in that same 2-1/2 miles of beleaguered river to safeguard over a dozen threatened and endangered plant, fish and aquatic species?

Will the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts protect the full spawning cycle of the shortnose sturgeon by barring all rafts and watercraft from landing on any of the islands in this stretch—and banning all disembarking in the critical Rock Dam Pool spawning area to safeguard young fish, rare plants and freshwater clams?

In deference to recognized New England Native American Peoples, will Massachusetts’s Natural Heritage Program leaders, the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the US Fish & Wildlife ban access to the Connecticut River islands in that embattled 2-1/2 mile reach, where several Tribes have a documented presence and ancient connection to these extremely sensitive sites?

Ultimately, the questions that will soon be answered are these:

Does the river belong to the corporation, or to the people?
Do endangered species matter?
Do ecosystems matter?
Do federal and state environmental laws matter?
And, finally: DO RIVERS MATTER?

Coming generations may soon have their answers on the Connecticut River.

Karl Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Due to the non-disclosure agreements requested to take part in these private meetings with PSP Investments, he is not participating in these closed-door settlement discussions. The public is entitled to know.

FISHY MISSING INFO

Posted by on 22 Jun 2016 | Tagged as: blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Daily Hampshire Gazette, FirstLight, fish counts, Fish passage results, GDF-Suez FirstLight, Greenfield Recorder, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, migratory delay, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, public trust, right-to-know, salmon, salmon hatchery, sea lamprey, shad, The Recorder, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

The following OpEd appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton,MA) and The Recorder (Greenfield, MA) in early June.

Fishy Missing Info Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer

DSCF8552
(low flows and byzantine fish ladder at Turners Falls 6/19/16:CLICK TO ENLARGE)

I’d like to change the name of a Commonwealth agency. What would you think about the Massachusetts Division of “Manufactured” Fisheries and Wildlife? I think it would offer a much better picture of the Agency’s focus, particularly here in the Connecticut Valley. Here you can get daily on-line information on where to find truckloads of thousands-upon-thousands of factory-produced rainbow, brown and brook trout before they are dumped into local rivers for hatchery-fish angling pleasure. But I dare you to find anything more than a several-weeks-old tally of the numbers of wild migratory fish streaming north here on the Connecticut anywhere beyond the fish windows at Holyoke Dam. So this would be a “truth-in-labeling” adjustment.

New England’s Great River runs for 69 miles through the Commonwealth. The MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife is responsible for all migratory fish in that broad reach from the time they enter at Agawam, until they either remain here for spawning, or pass into Vermont and New Hampshire. Those runs are the agency’s “public trust”—to be protected for its citizens, anglers, students and future generations. But the less information the public gets on their whereabouts, the less an agency might be availed upon to actually protect them.

As we enter the final weeks of migration season the only information provided—not just days old, but nearly a month stale, refers solely to fish on the first 16 miles of river from the Connecticut border to the fish lift at Holyoke Dam. That leaves a full 52 miles of river with just a single—now uselessly outdated May 4th report about the truly wild shad, lamprey and herring now moving along New England’s flagship waterway. Salmon are not mentioned here because just three years after the US Fish & Wildlife Service stopped factory production of this hybrid, just a single salmon has been tallied. Hatchery fish production masks the reality of failing wild populations and deteriorating habitats. To date there’s been but one report on fish passage from Turners Falls.

As an interested citizen I’m a bit outraged that it’s June 1st, and I don’t have a clue about what’s going on with the wild, migrating fish coming upriver in what you have to consider as one of New England’s last remaining great migrations. Shad, blueback herring, and sea lamprey have been moving upstream for over two months now, and the only public information offered is of the absurd 54 shad counted at Turners Falls, almost a full month back. Really? This is any agency with an accountability problem.

MA DF&W has scant little to offer the public as to what they’ve been doing on the ground to protect our wild fish runs—and that includes struggling populations of state-listed, endangered shortnose sturgeon, also under their purview. But to not even take responsibility for having on-the-ground personnel monitoring runs at the river’s long-known choke point, Turners Falls, is a flagrant abdication of duty. Here in central and northern Massachusetts we not only don’t see fish because of decimated Connecticut River habitats, we aren’t even offered updated tallies on the ugly mess. But perhaps that’s by design. Connecticut’s state fisheries agency regularly provides more information on Commonwealth fish runs than does the MA DF&W.

When I recently contacted the Commonwealth’s Anadromous Fish Project Leader to inquire about fish passage information at Turners Falls, he tersely emailed back that the state no longer does those fish counts: I should contact FirstLight Power for information. I guess our fish are now fully privatized. And when it has come to the power company requesting larger and more frequent water withdrawals on the Connecticut upstream at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, it appears the Division has never seen a company proposal it wasn’t just fine with.

This 2016 season has literally been the worst year for Massachusetts fish passage information since 2010, when FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain broke down, fouling its pumping tunnels with 45,000 cubic square yards of reservoir muck. They didn’t operate from May – November and fish passage at Turners Falls–it was subsequently revealed, had jumped 600-800% above yearly averages. We didn’t get that information until late as well. Seem a little fishy to you?

Some of us actually care about wild fish and living rivers. And, frankly, if I were reduced to thinking that following a truckload of factory fish to its dumping site for a day’s angling was a wildlife experience—well, I’d just as soon get one of those wind-up fish carousels you can hold–the ones with the tiny plastic pole and the revolving, yapping fish mouths. The Massachusetts Division of “Manufactured” Fish & Wildlife–sounds about right where wild fish and the Connecticut River is concerned.

Karl Meyer of Greenfield is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

DEAD REACH REPORT: the BLACK HOLE continues…

Posted by on 09 May 2016 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Dead Reach, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke Fish Lift, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, sea lamprey, shad, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

DEAD REACH REPORT: the BLACK HOLE continues…

Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer
P1000522

Forty-one days after the first fish were reported being lifted at Holyoke Dam, we still have not a shred of information on fish passage in the Connecticut River’s Dead Reach at Turners Falls. That’s the beleaguered, half-emptied, 2.7 miles of riverbed that all migrating American shad, sea lamprey, and blueback herring must pass in order to make progress toward Vermont and New Hampshire spawning grounds. Within that Dead Reach is the Rock Dam, the only documented natural spawning site for endangered shortnose sturgeon in this river system.

Thus, again, GDF-Suez FirstLight continues in sole control and possession of information on the public’s federal trust migratory fish—every one of which, in trying to reach upstream sites, gets diverted into their turbine-lined power canal. Once corralled and essentially privatized in that miles-long trench, very few ever emerge alive beyond Turners Falls Dam.

Holyoke Fish Lift numbers have been handed off daily to Ken Sprankle, USFWS’s Connecticut River Coordinator, for weeks now. Students from Holyoke Community College are staffing that site, overseen by the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. MA Fish & Wildlife is responsible for those shad, lamprey and herring while they are traversing the Commonwealth’s reach on the Connecticut. They’re responsible for getting the public’s fish counted as well. That role up at Turners Falls is clearly not working or being taken seriously. We have no information from there whatsoever–with the video-counting apparatus controlled by FirstLight, and the review, tallies, and the hand-off of that public information left in the hands of Greenfield Community College students.

None of this speaks well for any safeguarding of the public trust.

Nevertheless, USFWS’s Ken Sprankle did provide these updates from Holyoke Dam this morning. Fish counts there as of Sunday, May 8, 2016 are: 32,937 American shad; 239 sea lamprey; and 14 federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon—all of which were brought to the top in the fish elevator, lifted out, and dropped back downstream. Virtually none of them will get an opportunity to spawn yet again this year.

To give you a sense of the miseries, one egg-laden female lifted up there had been tagged in the Dead Reach in Turners Falls 2004, as a female on a spawning site. This year, a dozen years after that tagging—she was apparently full of eggs and attempting to reach the Rock Dam for spawning once more. They plopped her back downstream on orders of the National Marine Fisheries Service. If that aging female dies over the winter, the genetic material in the hundreds of thousands of eggs she was carrying gets lost to eternity, and becomes yet another signpost on extinctions path.

Just what exactly is being accomplished by not letting these endangered fish spawn?

Meanwhile, here’s a tiny Dead Reach report of my own. I stopped by the TF Dam at mid-morning on Mother’s Day. It was drizzly, water was spilling from Bascule Gate 1(Turners Falls side), and no one was fishing at the site.

Downstream at 9:40 I met a lone angler exiting from the Rock Dam pool site at Cabot Woods. He said he’d had a few, earlier, but that it was slowing down. When I went out to the Rock Dam it was fairly quiet, with the water only moderately clear with the recent rain. Still, looking down from the rocks, schooling swirls of shad can sometimes be seen when the light is good. I saw nothing. Nor did I note any lamprey tails slapping the rock faces as they suctioned their way upstream through the notches.

According to this angler who fishes the mouth of the Deerfield as well, Rock Dam fishing on Saturday was pretty decent: “I had a dozen shad,” he noted. Thus, it’s become fairly obvious these last two springs that when flow is left in the riverbed, Rock Dam is one of the finest shad fishing sites on the Connecticut.

So, American shad have been reaching Turners Falls for 5 weeks now, we just don’t know how many are passing upstream—and we have yet to get count information from TransCanada about numbers passing Vernon Fishway. Thus parts of Massachusetts and all of Vermont and New Hampshire remain in the dark as to the whereabouts of their share of the ocean’s spring bounty.

Holyoke Fishway opened last week. You can visit, Weds. – Sunday from 9 – 5. Its on the CT, where Rt. 116 crosses into Holyoke from South Hadley. The public fish viewing facilities at Turners Falls have yet to open.

Spawning shortnose sturgeon denied flow at Rock Dam Pool

Posted by on 08 May 2015 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, Atlantic salmon, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Dr. Boyd Kynard, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Extinction, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, GDF-Suez FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, Rock Dam, Rutland Herald, shortnose sturgeon, The Greenfield Recorder, University of Massachusetts, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont Digger

PRockDamPoolDewatered (2)
(to view lager image, click on photo).

NOTE: the photo above documents conditions found at the Rock Dam Pool on the Connecticut River on May 3, 2015. Seventeen years of published studies conducted by federal and University of Massachusetts fisheries researchers at the adjacent Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center show that these river conditions cause spawning failure for federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam Pool, their only documented natural spawning site. The May 3rd river conditions found at Rock Dam mimicked mid-summer flows on the Connecticut–conditions that research shows drives spawning-ready females from the site, and de-waters the cobble-strewn pool where eggs and embryos attach and develop. April 25 to May 22 is the documented spawning window for the shortnose sturgeon on the Connecticut. It is a crime to kill, injure or interfere with endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon under federal and state law. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife are responsible for the protection of the Connecticut River’s only federally-endangered fish under the Endangered Species Act(ESA). GDF-Suez FirstLight controls river flows to this site via spill gate operations at the Turners Falls Dam, just upstream.

A RIVER PRESERVED IN PLASTIC Copyright © 2015 by Karl Meyer

(The following essay–with minor variation in each, appeared recently in The Recorder, The Rutland Herald, and at Vtdigger.org)

A lifeless, three-foot long Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon sits on display at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, MA. The shortnose has been this river’s only federally-endangered fish since 1967. That plastic sturgeon has sat amidst other replica fish for a dozen years now—a plastic American shad, a blueback herring, a trophy-size Atlantic salmon. They’re framed beneath a slightly-ruffled acrylic surface representing the Connecticut River at this flagship site of the Silvio Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge.

That display is the basic message offered to visitors here: ‘This is a river with congenial flows supporting populations of shad and herring, big native salmon, and federally-protected sturgeon.’

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Few upstream migrants reach Vermont and New Hampshire today. That’s part of the legacy of failure of federal and state fish agencies and watchdog groups claiming to safeguard an ecosystem and its native migratory fish. That legacy will remain intact until they confront ongoing conditions in Massachusetts that have been crippling the river here for decades.

That Discovery Center depiction falls apart if visitors simply walk outside onto the deck of the Turners Falls Bridge, adjacent to Turners Falls Dam. There, often for months on end, what they’ll see is the hollowed-out heart of New England’s Great River–a waterless chasm, or one teased by just a trickle from the power company’s dam. Conversely, when rain or snow send more river downstream than can be profitably sent through FirstLight’s power canal or stored upstream for their Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, those spill gates open wide–producing violent, see-sawing flows few fish can fight or follow.

Meanwhile a 200 million year-old evolutionary gem, the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, remains all but abandoned just downstream–teetering on the verge of extinction for decades. Likewise, American shad can’t move upstream in the river here at all. They’re forced into that turbine-lined power canal where less than 1-in-10 will emerge alive beyond the dam. And those blueback herring–protected on paper as a “federal trust” species, have not been counted here in almost a decade. Just 20 years back they passed by the thousands.

That plastic salmon, showcased for decades as the darling of this river’s fisheries restoration, has been extinct here since 1809. It should not be presented as a living native fish. In science, extinct isn’t subject to interpretation.

That trophy-sized model derives from a massive hybrid hatchery program created by cross-breeding salmon imported from Canadian and northern New England rivers. For 43 years federal and state fish farms produced the millions of tiny fry dumped into the river each spring. Those fish factories repeatedly proved vectors for the potential spread of disease throughout the river system. Though those tiny fish proved great for public relations, no spawning population of engineered salmon ever took hold.

Hybrid salmon became the red herring that masked the massively broken ecosystem that exists on an eight-mile stretch of New England’s Great River from the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station to the tailrace of the Turners Falls Power Canal. Those salmon were the stand-ins for agencies including the National Marine Fisheries Service, the USFWS, and MA Division of Fish & Wildlife that had failed to protect living migratory species here–and an ecosystem suffocating right in their backyard.

The plight of the only state- and federally endangered fish here represents the ultimate failure of responsibilities. Dr. Boyd Kynard spent decades studying the shortnose and documented it’s only natural spawning site–the Rock Dam Pool, less than two miles downstream of Turners Falls Dam. Dam operations there were annually creating conditions that crippled spawning success for the remaining 300 sturgeon still able to reach their ancient rendezvous site.

Kynard’s federal- and state-funded findings were given to fish agencies a decade back. Each bore legal responsibility for that sturgeon. Yet no agency or non-profit stepped-in to monitor and enforce Endangered Species Act protections. None intervened to halt the trickle-and-torrent flows preventing reproduction. That step alone would’ve put living waters back into the river here–aiding the shad and herring attempting to reach Vermont and New Hampshire. Likewise in 2012, when Kynard published a book on the shortnose–documenting its life history and the river conditions necessary for its recovery, again, no one went to court to protect this public legacy.

Had agencies and watchdog groups taken responsibility years back for protecting spawning sturgeon at that Rock Dam Pool below FirstLight’s dam, native migratory fish and the river ecosystem would be in a far better place today. Instead, that work was left to become part of the current studies in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 5-year relicensing process for the Turners Falls and Northfield hydro sites, where I’m on the Fisheries and Aquatic Studies Team.

Sturgeon spawning is not monitored today. It’s unconscionable to have waited for a 40 year relicensing process to come around before broaching concerns for an endangered fish and broken ecosystem. Hopefully it won’t prove the difference between a living river, and one merely depicted in a museum model.

Greenfield, MA journalist Karl Meyer is participating in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls hydro sites.

Comments sent to FERC Re: Northfield/TF Canal Relicensing

Posted by on 15 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River ecosystem, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC license, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, New Hampshire, Rock Dam, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, US Geological Survey, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

The following are my formal Stakeholder Comments submitted on July 15, 2013, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concerning GDF-Suez FirstLight’s Updated Proposed Study Plan for gaining relicensing for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls/Cabot Power Canal projects.  Please excuse wide line-spacing due to document format.

                                                                                                          

July 14, 2013

 

Karl Meyer, M.S., Environmental Science
Greenfield, MA  01301

 

 

 

Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
88 First Street, N.E.
Washington, DC  20426

 

Stakeholder Comments, RE: FirstLight Hydro Generating Company’s Updated Proposed Study Plan (PSP) for Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, FERC Project No. 2485-063; and Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project, FERC Project No. 1889-081

 

Dear Secretary Bose,

 

 

Please consider the following comments, changes and proposed improvements to FirstLight Hydro Generating Company’s Updated Proposed Study Plan (PSP) in order to achieve the best measurable outcomes for the public’s interest in a balanced and functioning Connecticut River ecosystem as you consider new operating licenses for hydropower generation at these two projects.

 

 

Comments refer to Updated PSP #s: 2.2.1; 2.3.1; 3.2.2; 3.3.1; 3.3.2; 3.3.3; 3.3.5; 3.3.6; 3.3.7; 3.3.8; and 3.3.19.

 

Comments:

 

 

2.2.1 & 2.3.1: Proposed Changes to Project Operation

 

FL Updated Proposed Study Plan, Numbers 2.2.1 and 2.3.1: Operator is considering additional generation by adding volume, flow and velocity in, 1(p.2-15): the Turners Falls Power Canal at either Station #1 or Cabot Station, or operating Cabot Station at full capacity; and, 2(p-2-35): at the Northfield Mountain Project.  Hydraulic capacity increase at TF/Cabot sites, and at Northfield Mountain would be near 2,000 CFS respectively.

 

Any back-dated decisions in adding generation at these two licensed sites may impact the effectiveness and criteria of studies that will be implemented in the interim, and may prove confounding to the two-year study regimen.  Both would certainly impact downstream habitats and flows.  What criteria is FirstLight looking at when deciding on new generation requests—and when will they reveal their choices?

 

3.2.2: Hydraulic Study of the Turners Falls Impoundment, Bypass Reach, (“power canal”—now omitted by FL) and below Cabot Station

 

 

Note: Hydraulic study of the TF Power Canal is a key need if this is again to be considered an upstream route for migratory American shad.  After 14 years of continuous study and project improvements near the head of the Turners Falls Canal, Gate House fish passage numbers are no more improved–nor consistent, compared to numbers of fish passing Holyoke Fish Lift, than they were a quarter century ago: Holyoke Lift versus the actual percent that were able to pass up through the TF Power Canal and through the Gatehouse: (Figures from the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission Tech. Committee Meeting, Secretary’s Report: 6/18/2013)

 

Gatehouse passage success: 1989: 2.7%; 1990:7.8%; 1991:10.5%; 1992: 8.3%; 1993:3.0%

 

Gatehouse passage success: 2009: 2.4%; 2010:10.0%; 2011:6.9%; 2012:5.4%; 2013: 9.2%.

 

 

 

(p. 3-50) “FERC has requested that FirstLight develop an unsteady state HEC-RAS model in the Turners Falls Impoundment, bypass reach, power canal, and below Cabot Station to the upper limit of the Holyoke Impoundment.”

 

 

FirstLight states that a hydraulic study of the TF power canal is unnecessary, as surface (WSEL) elevations fluctuate very little.  “Given the power canal’s limited WSEL fluctuations, FirstLight does not believe a hydraulic model of the power canal is warranted.”

 

 

FERC is correct.  A full hydraulics study of the TF Canal is needed.  It is necessary as baseline information if migratory fish continue to be diverted into the power canal.  It will also be critical information if generating capacity in the TF Canal and upstream at the Northfield Project is increased by 2,000 cfs, respectively(2.2.1 & 2.3.1).  This would certainly impact hydraulics at the head gates and downstream in the power canal.

 

There are 14 head gates at the TF Gatehouse flushing directly into the TF Power Canal.  Surface level elevations have very little to say about actual flow hydraulics at this site.  Those head gate openings and the fluctuating head-levels from the TF Impoundment behind the dam create a region of extreme turbulence in the canal running some 500 feet downstream from Gatehouse.  This is one of the bottlenecks in the power canal route that has not been overcome after 43 years of study and structural changes in this upstream route.

 

 

When the agencies and the public were taken on FERC site visits, only one group in three was given a tour of this side of the TF Gatehouse.  At that time, only 4 head gates were open.  The canal appeared a relatively calm place.  When all head gates are open—as the Northfield Project and Cabot are run in peaking modes, or the TF Canal is run at baseload capacity through the day, this region is a boiling-roll of water.  Surface speeds reach nearly 10 mph (as monitored by cyclists on the canal path).  We need to know how this affects velocity and turbulence throughout the water column

 

 

Given recent fish passage increases at Holyoke Dam, it is feasible that building a facility to lift migratory fish out of the CT River and into the TF Canal below Cabot Station could divert as many as 100,000 fish into the canal over a period of a few days.  Recent work by USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center showed American shad spending an average of 25 days in the power canal.  Researchers did not investigate whether this was a signature of fish mortality, spawning, or milling. Nor has the TF canal ever been investigated as spawning habitat—which would have been logical, given those lengths of stopover.  American shad notably do not do well with stress.  Piling up the population in a power canal will likely result in major migratory delays and increased mortality—which needs a full investigation if this path remains an option.

 

This should be a two-year effort, to control for differences in flow years, fish tagging and handling, and to assure that full acoustic coverage is gained through proper array deployment.

 

American shad have not been able to negotiate this region of high turbulence since this canal route was chosen for them in 1980.  At Holyoke, as well as at Vernon Dam, fish follow attraction water that leads them directly upstream to the dams.  Rates of passage at both are within the acceptable range of 40-60% that the agencies have set as targets.  When the Connecticut River above Cabot Station—aka, the Bypass Reach, was allowed to be de-watered in deference to this power canal route, shad and herring were expected to locate and negotiate a series ladders, turns, turbines, and turbulence at a half dozen canal sites in order to reach upriver spawning areas.  It’s a migratory knot; created by humans.

 

The Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration effort risks repeating four new decades of failure if it again ignores logic.  The TF Power Canal is in need of a full hydraulic study.

 

Hydraulic modeling must be done here in order to avoid another migratory fisheries restoration disaster at Turners Falls.  Northern Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire have yet to see their guaranteed shares of the targeted shad and herring runs, nor has the program achieved anything near its stated goals:  “The intent of this program is to provide the public with high quality sport fishing opportunities in a highly urbanized area as well as to provide for the long term needs of the population for food,” as stated in the New England Cooperative Fisheries Statement of Intent in 1967.

 

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(3))

 

Please ADD to Existing Information: Life history and behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, 2012, Kynard et al, World Sturgeon Conservation Society publications, ISBN: 978-3-8448-2801-6.  Available through the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society at: www.nasps-sturgeon.org/#!publications , or directly from Dr. Kynard at: kynard@eco.umass.edu.  Chapter 3-Migrations, Effect of River Regulation documents over a decade of highly relevant studies.

 

 

FirstLight’s Water Level Recorders (River Stage)”The Water Level Recorders deployed by FL in 2010 that supplied “limited data” from the By Pass Reach and below Station 1 should be removed from “existing information” status.  WSEL monitoring in this reach needs to be redone.  Several more monitors at key sites are needed to protect resident and migratory fish, as well as the federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, which gathers for pre-spawning in the pool immediately below the Rock Dam, and–when flows allow, chooses to spawn there.

 

 

Note *: personal communication from Dr. Boyd Kynard, fish behaviorist and CT River shortnose sturgeon expert:

 

“For 10 years between 1993 and 2007, adult sns were present at Rock Dam for 5 years prior to spawning occurring anywhere ( Rock Dam or Cabot Station). During the 5 years they were present, the mean number of adults present was 10.4 (range, 3-25). Thus, many adults moved to the Rock Dam spawning site before any spawning occurred at Cabot Station suggesting they preferred to spawn at Rock Dam.” (Refer to chapters 1 & 3, Life history and behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, 2012, Kynard et al, World Sturgeon Conservation Society publications, ISBN: 978-3-8448-2801-6.  Available through the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society at: www.nasps-sturgeon.org/#!publications , or directly from Dr. Kynard at: kynard@eco.umass.edu

 

 

Need for Additional Information (3-53):  Where, exactly, did FL locate WSEL monitors in the By Pass Reach?  How do they intend to guard against “vandalism” ruining further data collections?

 

Add to information list for specific information on this reach: Life history and behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, 2012, Kynard et al, World Sturgeon Conservation Society, publications, ISBN: 978-3-8448-2801-6.

 

Additional WSEL monitors needed. In order to protect pre-spawning and spawning of shortnose sturgeon in this reach of river additional WSEL monitors should also be placed at: 1. In the pool immediately below Rock Dam, 2. on the west side of the river, in the main stem channel, upstream of Rawson Island which is adjacent to, and just west of the Rock Dam.  That Rock Dam ledge continues through the island and reemerges as part of the thalweg near the river’s west bank.

 

3.3.1 Conduct Instream Flow Habitat Assessments in the Bypass Reach and below Cabot Station 

 

If migratory fish are again to be diverted into the TF Power Canal via a new lift in the river near Cabot outflows (proposed), special consideration needs to be made when considering siting the lift facility.

 

Federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon will likely enter the lift, and there exists the risk of putting them into the power canal where there is potential for turbine mortality.

 

Migratory delay: another reason for special care in considering diversion is migratory delay for American shad and blueback herring at this site.  If a lift gets built at Cabot, there will be a need for full-time monitoring personnel in order not to risk sending SNS into the canal.  Just as at Holyoke, with Atlantic salmon monitoring, the lift would then have to shut down—sometimes for weeks at a time, due to turbidity and the risk of NOT identifying a migrant salmon(or in this case, a federally endangered SNS).  This type of migratory delay would not likely be acceptable to the agencies, or FL (see FL’s added text about “without delay” under 3.3.19 : “Evaluate the Use of an Ultrasound Array to Facilitate Upstream Movement to Turners Falls Dam by Avoiding Cabot Station Tailrace.”

 

 

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(3))

 

The IFIM Study needs to be conducted with increased WSEL monitors given FL’s stated intent to potentially increase generation and flow at the Northfield Project, Station 1, and Cabot Station.

 

Several more monitors at key sites are needed to protect resident and migratory fish, as well as the federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, which gathers for pre-spawning in the pool immediately below the Rock Dam, and–when flows allow, chooses to spawn there.

 

Note *: personal communication from Dr. Boyd Kynard, fish behaviorist and CT River shortnose sturgeon expert:

 

“For 10 years between 1993 and 2007, adult sns were present at Rock Dam for 5 years prior to spawning occurring anywhere ( Rock Dam or Cabot Station). During the 5 years they were present, the mean number of adults present was 10.4 (range, 3-25). Thus, many adults moved to the Rock Dam spawning site before any spawning occurred at Cabot Station suggesting they preferred to spawn at Rock Dam.” (Refer to chapters 1 & 3, Life history and behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, 2012, Kynard et al, World Sturgeon Conservation Society publications, ISBN: 978-3-8448-2801-6.  Available through the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society at: www.nasps-sturgeon.org/#!publications , or directly from Dr. Kynard at: kynard@eco.umass.edu

 

 

Need for Additional Information (3-53):  Where, exactly, did FL locate WSEL monitors in the By Pass Reach?  How do they intend to guard against “vandalism” ruining further data collections?

 

Information list for specific information on this reach, ADD: Life history and behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, 2012, Kynard et al, World Sturgeon Conservation Society, publications, ISBN: 978-3-8448-2801-6.  Available through the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society at: www.nasps-sturgeon.org/#!publications , or directly from Dr. Kynard at: kynard@eco.umass.edu

 

Additional WSEL monitors needed to capture fuller By Pass flows profile. In order to protect pre-spawning and spawning of shortnose sturgeon in this reach of river additional WSEL monitors should also be placed at: 1. In the pool immediately below Rock Dam, 2. on the west side of the river, in the main stem channel, upstream of Rawson Island which is adjacent to, and just west of the Rock Dam.  That Rock Dam ledge continues through the island and reemerges as part of the thalweg near the river’s west bank.

 

Table 3.3.1-1: Target Species and Life Stages Proposed for the IFIM Study Reaches.

 

Under Reach 1 & 2: blueback herring: add “spawning”—as New England Cooperative Fisheries Research Studies document BBH spawning in this reach, at the mouth of the Fall River.

 

 

Under Reach 1 & 2: shortnose sturgeon: add “pre-spawning.”

 

Note *: personal communication from Dr. Boyd Kynard, fish behaviorist and CT River shortnose sturgeon expert:

 

“For 10 years between 1993 and 2007, adult sns were present at Rock Dam for 5 years prior to spawning occurring anywhere ( Rock Dam or Cabot Station). During the 5 years they were present, the mean number of adults present was 10.4 (range, 3-25). Thus, many adults moved to the Rock Dam spawning site before any spawning occurred at Cabot Station suggesting they preferred to spawn at Rock Dam.”

 

 

3.3.2 Evaluate Upstream and Downstream Passage of Adult American Shad

 

Study Goals and Objectives (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(1))

 

“The goal of this study is to identify the effects of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Projects on adult shad migration. The study objectives are to:”

 

 

Add: “Determine route selection, behavior and migratory delays of upstream migrating American shad through the entire Turners Falls Power Canal.”

 

Add to “Describe the effectiveness of the gatehouse entrances;” …

 

 

ADD IN: “and describe the behavior of migratory American in the Turners Falls Power Canal within 500 feet of the gatehouse entrances.”

 

ADD IN: “Evaluate attraction for shad reaching the dam spillway under a range of spill conditions.” 

Note:  Since a lift is being considered at this site, evaluating spillway attraction is most important.

 

 

 “Evaluate attraction, entrance efficiency and internal efficiency of the spillway ladder for shad reaching the dam spillway, under a range of spill conditions;”  see immediately below.

 

Footnote 35 “This may be achieved with existing information; FirstLight is awaiting data from the USGS Conte Laboratory.”

 

 

NOTE: USGS has done 6 years (2008 – present) of study and data collection at Spillway and Gate House.  All of it remains “preliminary”—hence never finalized, or peer-reviewed.  Only “finalized” study data and findings should be included in FERC study plan design, and made available to all stakeholders for review.  All studies are partially FirstLight funded.

 

The Need for Additional Information

 

Under  Task 1: “Review existing information:”

Only finalized USGS study information should be considered.

Task 2: Develop Study Design:

As per FERC request, a radio and PIT tag study of the entire Turners Falls Power Canal should be included in this study.

 

 

Task 3: Evaluation of Route Selection and Delay

 

             Under: Radio Telemetry Tracking: Add in:

 

“Tagged fish will be tracked throughout the Turners Falls Power Canal during bothupstream and downstream migration with fixed antennae and mobile tracking; usingPIT tags in addition to radio telemetry tags.”

 

“Additional tagged individuals may need to be released farther upstream (Turners Falls power canal, * (ADD IN: “top of Cabot Station Ladder,”) upstream of Turners Falls Dam), to ensure that enough tagged individuals encounter project dams on both upstream and downstream migrations, that these individuals are exposed to a sufficient range of turbine and operational conditions to test for project effects, and to provide adequate samples sizes in order to address the objectives.”

 

Under: Video Monitoring

 

 

Video monitoring at the Spillway Ladder is insufficient.

 

Note: Video monitoring is insufficient in determining the number of fish attracted to the spillway.  It will only register fish that can FIND the Spillway Ladder Entrance.  This in confounded by a range of competing flows, water levels present in the By Pass, and spill from the dam.  A full range of telemetry tracking needs to be employed at the TF Spillway—not simply at the Spillway Ladder and SL Entrance.

 

Task 4: Evaluation of Mortality

 

Note: Preliminary USGS TF Canal studies have suggested uninvestigated data indicating mortality within the Turner Falls Power Canal.  Mortality tagged fish and data should be collected throughout the entire TF Power Canal, to correct for overall mortality.

 

 

The number of fish suggested to be fitted with mortality tags is insufficient in all these studies, and should be increased by a factor of two.

 

Table 3.3.2-1: Proposed locations and types of monitoring and telemetry equipment proposed for the upstream and downstream passage of adult shad study.

 

 

ADD in: (to identify migration routes and delays):

 

After “Cabot Ladder”, add new location: Eleventh Street Canal Bridge: PIT Tag Reader

 

Before “Rawson Island”, add new location: TF Power Canal, 400 feet downstream of Gate House.  PIT Tag Reader and Lotek SRX.

 

 

Also before “Rawson Island”, add new location: “Rock Dam Pool, immediately downstream of Rock Dam.”  Lotek SRX.

 

 

After “Turners Falls Spillway Ladder,” add: Turners Falls Spillway, Montague Dam.  Lotek SRX;  followed by a new location, add in: Turners Falls Spillway, Gill Dam.  Lotek SRX.

 

QUESTION: What is the exact location considered for “Below Turners Falls Dam” ?

 

 

3.3.3 Evaluate Downstream Passage of Juvenile American Shad

 

Task 3: Turbine Survival

 

Evaluations should be done for all turbines, with all turbines operating, at both Cabot and Station 1, to capture the broadest range of conditions at these sites.

 

 

3.3.5  Evaluate Downstream Passage of American Eel

 

Level of Effort and Cost (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(6))

 

Study ticket price is too expensive.

 

 

“The estimated cost for this study is approximately between $350,000 and $450,000.”

 

Note: Costs of this American Eel Study are prohibitive, particularly since there is no benchmark data on the ecosystem importance of eels above Mile 122, TF Dam.

 

This rivals the costs of all studies supported to assess migration and mortality of American shad, a restoration target species to Vermont and New Hampshire for 46 years.

 

 

 A significant proportion of that money could best be used to increase the scope of study: 3.3.2, and 3.3.7: Evaluate Upstream and Downstream Passage of Adult American Shad; and 3.3.7 Fish Entrainment and Turbine Passage Mortality Study.  These could then include a full study of the Turners Falls Power Canal–and increasing the number of mortality-tagged fish.

 

Cost effectively, a literature survey, and results from Holyoke Dam studies and Cabot data collection should suffice to gauge survival of American eel at Turners Falls/Cabot/Northfield.  A portion of the funding could be used to construct an eel-way at TF Dam—a relatively inexpensive structure.

 

3.3.6 Impact of Project Operations on Shad Spawning, Spawning Habitat and Egg Deposition in the Area of the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Projects

 

 

Under: Existing Information and Need for Additional Information (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(3))

 

Information as American spawning and spawning habitat is missing for the pool where shortnose sturgeon spawn, the Rock Dam Pool, immediately downstream of that notched ledge in the river.

 

Task 2: Examination of Known Spawning Areas Downstream of Turners Falls Dam

 

Note: The Turners Falls Power Canal needs to be investigated as a spawning location for American shad.  USGS studies have registered migratory shad remaining in the TF Canal for and average of 25 days.  Adult shad, which do not feed during spawning migration, must complete their salt-to-river-to salt spawning runs within 44 days in order to survive.  A critical need is to know whether these fish are spawning in the TF Power Canal, milling in the canal, or whether they have expired.

 

3.3.7 Fish Entrainment and Turbine Passage Mortality Study

 

Increase the number of mortality-tagged fish; run tests for all turbines at Station 1 and Cabot, with all turbines operating.

 

3.3.8 Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling in the Vicinity of the Fishway Entrances and Powerhouse Forebays

 

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(3))

 

 

Note: Three-dimensional CFD Modeling needs to extend 500 feet downstream of the Gate House in the Turner Falls Power Canal to capture the influence of the 14 head gates at the dam on migratory fish behavior and delay.

 

3.3.19 Evaluate the Use of an Ultrasound Array to Facilitate Upstream Movement to Turners Falls Dam by Avoiding Cabot Station Tailrace  

 

 

General Description of Proposed Study

 

FirstLight’s added language: “This study will be conducted in 2015 pending the results of Study No 3.3.1 and Study No. 3.3.2, which include analysis of historic fish passage data.”

 

Note: This study should be conducted for two seasons, the same time span accorded to American eel. 

 

Historic fish passage data likely has only minimal importance, as early spring freshet flows over the TF Spillway generally out-compete Cabot Station flows and send fish treading water at the base of TF dam—often for weeks.  Those freshet flows at the dam typically overwhelm any flow from the Spillway Ladder, and the shad essentially run down their engines treading water until the freshet subsides.  At that point, flows over the Spillway are allowed to be cut to 400 cfs, which sends the shad downstream to fight their way into the spill of the canal system. For this reason, historic data has limited value as the quantified presence of shad at the base of TF Dam is missing, and data on the effectiveness of Spillway attraction flow does not exist.

 

Resource Management Goals of Agencies/Tribes with Jurisdiction over Resource (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(2)) 

 

“• American shad must be able to locate and enter the passage facility with little effort and without stress.”

 

“• Where appropriate, improve upstream fish passage effectiveness through operational or structural modifications at impediments to migration.”

 

 

“• Fish that have ascended the passage facility should be guided/routed to an appropriate area so that they can continue upstream migration, and avoid being swept back downstream below the obstruction.”

 

Note: This study should not be contingent on results of other studies, and should be conducted for two seasons. 

1.    Its effectiveness at another Connecticut River bottleneck has been tested.

 

2.    It addresses the need to avoid migratory delay and failure for two key species that have topped the CT River fisheries restoration since 1967: American shad and blueback herring.

 

3.    It keeps the fish migrating in the Connecticut River.

 

4.    If it proves effective, it would simplify fish passage mechanisms and cut by millions of dollars the cost required for passing TF Dam.  A single set of lifts at the dam would pass fish, as it has at Holyoke for decades.

 

5.    It would avoid the expense and pitfalls of requiring fish to negotiate two mechanisms at Cabot Station, another out of the canal, and a final grid through Gate House. 

 

6.    It presents the opportunity to avoid the stress required of migratory fish when they are driven into the TF Power Canal, then must find their way through turbulence and fight a path through several more untried, built mechanisms.

 

7.    USGS studies have found the average passage time through the TF Canal is 25 days; whereas transit times in the actual river—from Holyoke to TF Dam, or from TF Dam to Vernon Dam, are generally accomplished in a matter of 2 – 3 days.

 

8.    This would avoid the problem of shortnose sturgeon being picked up in a lift at Cabot Station, which would be a cause for further migratory delay as lifts would have to stop to retrieve fish—and also might have to be shut for days during times of high turbidity. 

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information (18 CFR § 5.11(d)(3)) 

Information from Proposed Project Changes, Flow, Hydraulics, Habitat, and Telemetry studies: 2.2.1; 2.3.1; 3.2.2; 3.3.1; 3.3.2; should be used to inform the implementation of this study. 

 

FirstLight’s added-in text:

 

“however, simply repelling shad from the Cabot tailrace is not a satisfactory result, for this behavioral barrier to be successful the fish would also have to keep going upstream, without delay, as opposed to dropping down below Cabot.”

 

Note: this caveat does not present a satisfactory argument.  In order to be proven ineffective, delays caused by sonics repelling fish from the Cabot entrance would have to out-compete any delays American shad and blueback herring encounter by being drawn to the Spillway during spring freshet and not find a readable upstream flow or passage at the dam. To this must be added the delay and stress of having river attraction and Spillway flow cut to 400 cfs, thus sending them DOWNSTREAM to fight their way into the TF Power Canal. 

Question: Should FL be deciding what constitutes delay?  Shouldn’t American shad dropping back two miles downstream from the TF Spillway to Cabot Station be considered an “unsatisfactory result”? 

 

Methodology (18 CFR § 5.11(b)(1), (d)(5)-(6))

 

Note: Ensonification coverage may need to be deployed far enough out into the main stem so as to lead fish out to the thalweg/main flows on the west side of Rawson Island.  Simply steering fish out of the Cabot entrance, but then only allowing them the choice of the minimal flows coming down through Rock Dam at the time paltry 400 cfs release would likely keep the fish milling and confused below Station # 1. 

Study Schedule (18 CFR § 5.11(b)(2) and (c))

 

FirstLight’s Added text: “ 

“If performed, the study is anticipated to conclude by mid-July 2015.”

 

Note: This should not be a contingent study. 

                                                End of Formal Comments 

Thank you for this opportunity to participate in improving license requirements and protecting the Connecticut River ecosystem for future generations. 

Sincerely,
Karl Meyer, M.S.

Crunch Time for the Connecticut River: you snooze; you lose…

Posted by on 30 May 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Dead Reach, ecosystem, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, National Marine Fisheries Service, Rock Dam, US Fish & Wildlife Service

Copyright © 2013, by Karl Meyer

Crunch Time for the Connecticut River: you snooze; you lose

(Note: the following piece appeared earlier this month in the Rutland Herald, www.rutlandherald.com, and Times-Argus in Montpelier, www.timesargus.com, as “Fish Future Hangs in Balance”) 

On May 7th the Holyoke Fish Lift passed 21,608 American shad upstream.  The next day they lifted 44,456—the all-time, single-day record for the Connecticut River.  In two days they’d passed over 66,000 shad–6,000 more than the highest number ever to pass upstream through the Turners Falls power and beyond its dam in a single season.  That occurred back 1992.  Sadly, upstream denizens may never see but a shadow of the ecosystem’s annual run of fish.  Here’s why:

 As April ended, GDF-Suez FirstLight Power cut off flow to the Connecticut below Turners Falls Dam.  Essentially the river died, reduced to a drool of 400 CFS (cubic feet per second) of flow leaking through a wide, 200 million year-old chasm of cobble, bedrock and shale.  In order to remain a working migratory system, 3,000 CFS of flow would’ve been needed to nourish the river below that dam.  Pinching off the flow there ensured that the fittest, early-arriving American shad and any remaining blueback herring (currently candidates for federal endangered species listing) would be forced from the river and into that power canal 2-1/2 miles downstream.

Right at the cusp of spawning season FirstLight diverted at least 97% of river’s flow.  It sent some 16,000 CFS through the dam head gates into the power canal to supply a portion of the region’s base-load electricity.  But beyond that, a still-undisclosed percentage of the Connecticut was gobbled-up to serve the massive pumping and generating operations of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, five miles upriver.  Tumultuous, tide-like effects created by those operations create a whole different animal.  There, using river water amassed in a five billion-gallon mountaintop reservoir, FL generates electricity via massive surges into- and out-of the riverbed either when demand peaks—or, when prices spike instantly on the electricity “spot market”.  So, while habitats are being deeply impacted by flow manipulations at the dam for Northfield, FirstLight harvest profits form a crippled riverbed.

One result this year is that an unknown number of the last 300 federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon surviving here were forced from their ancient river spawning pool to attempt their spring rite elsewhere.  The overwhelming yearly result is, in retreat from a de-watered river, nearly all upstream migrating fish here are left with no choice but to swim into the flows exiting the Turners Falls canal and turbines 2-1/2 miles downstream.

To successfully get upstream there, fish must move through two miles of alien flows and habitat.  Then they must thread their way through brutal currents, blinding turbulence and tangled cross-currents while approaching the dam’s head gates, where–unknowingly, they are required to locate a tiny canal exit.  If they get this far, all shad and herring must punch through more quickened flow, a final series of steps, and yet another narrow opening through fluctuating water levels at that gatehouse in order to emerge above the dam.  In the best of years less than 1-in-10 shad succeeds.  For most adult fish, any trip through that canal will prove fatal.

If, this year–like at Holyoke, two fish elevators had been installed at the base of Turners Falls Dam, and–if ample flow nourished the river bed, as it does below Holyoke, some 33,000 of those 66,000 Holyoke shad would’ve passed Turners Falls a few days later.  A couple of days after that—say May 13 – 15, some 16,000 shad would’ve begun wriggling their way up the Vernon ladder past Brattleboro and Hinsdale on their way to Walpole and Bellows Falls.  And thousands more would’ve followed.  But with a deadly canal intervening, that just wont’ be happening.

Connecticut River fans anywhere from Turners Falls and Northfield, MA, to Chesterfield, NH and Bellows Falls, VT are currently hoping this ecosystem will be revived through improvements via the federal relicensing of dams at Vernon, Bellows Falls, and Wilder.  But two federal hydro licenses here in Massachusetts for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls hydro complex are also up for 2018 renewal.  The hard truth is, if they don’t get it right down here, there won’t be more than a whiff of a renewed ecosystem upstream.  Forget any connection to the sea.  Turners Falls/Northfield really is the ballgame.  An ugly compromise that uses that power canal as an upstream migration route will ensure a functioning river ecosystem and ancient runs of shad and blueback herring to Bellows Falls and Walpole won’t ever materialize.

Public relicensing meetings are taking place at 9 a.m. at the Northfield Mountain Visitor Center, 99 Millers Falls Rd. (Rt. 63), Northfield, MA, on Tues. and Weds., June 4 & 5.  Those ecosystem-shaping decisions will be made by those who participate.

Karl Meyer of Greenfield, MA is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Dam Relicensing: Diving into the Dead Reach

Posted by on 28 May 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Dead Reach, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC license, FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Rock Dam, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab

Watch Diving into the Dead Reach on LOCAL-BIAS: Learn why information about fish mortality in the the deadly Turners Falls Power Canal has been kept from the public these last 14 years.

Tune-in Greenfield Community Television’s (GCTV) Local-Bias Host Drew Hutchison and guest Karl Meyer, and find out what happened when he went snorkeling in this critical segment of the Connecticut–which should be deemed a spawning sanctuary for shortnose sturgeon and migrating American shad.

The program airs Weds. May 29th at 5 pm, and again on Thursday, May 30, at 9 pm; then again on Saturday, June 1, at 9 pm.  The series repeats at those time the f0llowing week.

Go to:  http://www.gctv.org/node/5264

See also: http://www.gctv.org/schedule

The Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon

Posted by on 21 Apr 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, Atlantic salmon, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, shortnose sturgeon, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

 

Copyright © 2013, by Karl Meyer

The following piece appeared earlier this April in the Rutland Herald, Vtdigger.org, The Recorder, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Shelburne Falls Independent, and on other sites.

                       The Shortnose Sturgeon and Spring’s Teachable Moment 

There’s a watershed opportunity for teachers investigating migratory fish this spring.  It’s the final season classrooms will raise Atlantic salmon eggs from a massive federal hatchery program, dismantled after 46 years.  It’s a chance to teach kids that “extinct,” in evolutionary biology terms, means exactly that: gone, forever.  It’s a profoundly simple lesson, with ramifications that can be fully grasped in a week.  I’m hoping teachers will put a living dinosaur of a fish in that salmon’s place—one still here, though teetering on the edge of extinction these 46 years: the federally endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon.  As teachable as T. Rex, this marvelously adapted, 3-4 foot fish has survived for 100 million years. 

On April 20, 1967, two federal agencies and four states signed the Cooperative Fisheries Restoration Compact for the Connecticut River.  It specifically targeted American shad and blueback herring, plus salmon–extinct here since Darwin’s birth in 1809. Within two years its emphasis had overwhelmingly veered to conjuring up a new salmon.  Still, with a little help shad and herring populations blossomed.  Combined runs reached 1,000,000 fish in the 1980s; then dropped precipitously.  Bluebacks are now rare as hen’s teeth. 

By 1975, what was then the Federal Power Commission had heard testimony that Long Island Sound had warmed to a point that might prevent cold-water salmon from entering rivers in its basin.  The climate had changed.  Still, in 1980 MA and US Fish and Wildlife Service officials insisted a series of salmon ladders be built, leading all migrants into a power canal at Turners Falls.  It failed instantly; yet skewed logic continued.  In 1983 Congress renamed the restoration The Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission.  It continues today. 

Those extinct salmon had only visited here–the southern tip of their range, for a few centuries.  Importing eggs from Canada and Maine, the program proved futile, costing millions annually.  It left the real problem for native shad, herring and endangered sturgeon—a broken Connecticut River, quietly untended.  Those species had returned here for thousands of years.  Bony-plated sturgeon had been vacuuming-up freshwater mussels eons before the present valley took shape. 

On March 11, 1967, the shortnose was listed as “endangered” in the original Endangered Species Preservation Act.  No one knew how they’d survived, or how many remained.  Shortnose were sometimes landed downstream of the 1849 Holyoke Dam; and a few were recorded upstream below Turners Falls.  By 1980, researchers discovered embryos and larvae upstream–proof shortnose spawned somewhere below Turners Falls.

Beginning in 1990, Dr. Boyd Kynard and colleagues began 17 years of continuous federal and state-funded sturgeon research.  Kynard ultimately uncovered the structure of the population, its migratory patterns, and ancient spawning grounds.  A key finding established that all shortnose head upstream to an ancient spawning pool between Greenfield and Turners Falls known as Rock Dam.  Less than 2,000 survive today.  They exist in two groups of a single genetic population, separated over 150 years ago by the raising of Holyoke Dam—which luckily had left some adults upstream with access to spawning.  Fish trapped downstream were out of luck.  

Today, the bulk of the population lives in the river below Holyoke Dam.  Known as “reproductive nulls,” some 1,500 sturgeon linger in a forced limbo created by agencies charged with protecting them.  If one manages to slip into Holyoke Gas & Electric’s fish lift for a spawning ride upstream, it is trapped and pointedly dropped downstream—per orders of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.  Surviving for 40 years or more, adults will repeatedly attempt to pass the dam until, genetically unfulfilled, they expire.

NMFS, MA NHESP and USFWS claim this protects sturgeon from being sliced up in HG&E’s turbines, if they return downstream after spawning.  All the while HG&E is 5 years in violation of license agreements mandating construction of safe downstream fish passage.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has done nothing to enforce environmental statutes that were key to Holyoke receiving a new hydro license in 1999.

Today, some 300 sturgeon cling to life upstream of Holyoke.  An unknown number are adults.  Some attempt to spawn near Rock Dam each spring (females spawn once every 5 yrs).   According to Kynard et al, success is far from guaranteed.  Unregulated flows emanating from FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls dam and canal imperil that endangered process.  Annually, spawning fails 79% of the time at Rock Dam; and 29% of the time at a default site just downstream.  Fertilized embryos are also killed when waffling flows flush them out, or leave them parching on river banks.  Many years, no young are produced.

Laws ignored; habitats decimated, river groups mum: it’s a blueprint for extinction.  Yet, amazingly, our dinosaurs persist. It’s this spring’s teachable moment.  Anyone up to a challenge? 

Karl Meyer’s Wild Animals of North America won a 2008 Teachers Choice Award for Children’s Books.  He lives in Greenfield, MA.

March 1st Deadline: Comments to FERC on Northfield/Turners Falls Hydro Relicensing

Posted by on 25 Feb 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River ecosystem, Conte, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, EPA, ESA, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Rock Dam, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab

Last Call to send comments and study recommendations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to guide the Connecticut River conditions mandated in the 2018 relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project.  The licenses will the river ecosystem for decades to come.

To file any comments on the relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project you will need to register at: www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp

You must include the following project numbers for Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project respectively, with any comments: P-2485-063, and P-1889-081.

All comments are due before MARCH 1, 2013.  Be sure to include your full mailing address, phone number, and email address in your comments. (I’ve attached my comments, which are now registered with FERC, below.)

Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science

Greenfield, MA, 01301                                                             February 25, 2013

To: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

RE: Comments on FERC Relicensing Projects: No. P- 2485-063 (Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project) and No. P-1889-081 (Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project)

Dear Commissioners,

Please carefully adhere to the standard FERC relicensing processes and deadlines as you relicense these two projects.  Holding public and agency site visits in early October 2012 may have been deemed convenient for circumventing winter weather that might have affected visits, however it placed invested parties in the difficult position of having to view and judge hydro operations and configurations at both facilities without the benefit of knowing what operational changes and information FirstLight Power Resources was including in its PAD.

Further, of the three FERC group tours at Northfield/Turners Falls, only one group, mine, was able to view the area of the By-Pass Reach and the Turners Falls Canal and head gates from the downstream side of the Turners Falls gate house.  This is a critical area to view, and the excuse being given was that there was construction happening on the Turners Falls Bridge.  However, unrestricted access to view these sites was available to any passing citizen just yards away via a bike and walking path, open to the public.  My group only received access because I made a direct request to FirstLight’s John Howard, who was my former boss.

The two other tour groups did not get to see the confused flows created by the 14 head gates at the upstream end of the Turners Falls Canal.  The canal has been a major disappointment as the upstream conduit for all migratory fish these last 34 years.  Those head gates are open at full bore during much of the upstream fish migration season; they should have been a key component of the tour.  Nor did interested parties get to view the exposed rock bed and de-pauperizing flow regimes created by flood gate manipulations at the Turners Falls Dam that renders the By-Pass Reach a non-river.  FERC should place particular emphasis on any studies that redirect upstream migrating fish away from the confused and failed conditions experienced in the Turners Falls Power Canal, and send them directly upstream to a lift at TF Dam.  That configuration has worked quite effectively at Holyoke Dam these last 58 years.

In late January 2013, GDF-Suez FirstLight Power Resource representatives noted at public hearings that it intends to apply to FERC with a Proposed Study Plan to begin its own investigations of flows in the reach below Turners Falls Dam this April 2013, rather than the 2014 and 2015 study seasons noted in the FERC Relicensing Process.  No study in this critical segment of river known as the By-pass Reach should be undertaken without a full vetting of the proposals.  This section of river is critical spawning habitat for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, also listed as endangered under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Act.  It is also the age-old upstream route for spawning federal-trust American shad and blueback herring.  It is noteworthy that in their expedited study application that FirstLight cites the area below Cabot Station as a key shortnose sturgeon spawning location, while the critical site for these fish—used for likely thousands of years, is the natural escarpment in the riverbed known as Rock Dam, a half mile upstream of Cabot Station.

In a letter from FERC to Mr. John Howard of FirstLight Power Resources dated March 12, 2010, the Commission noted that FirstLight had failed to comply with Article 34 of the license for the Turners Falls Project, releasing just 120 cubic feet per second to this segment of the river to protect shortnose sturgeon from the effects of low flows.  The minimum requirement is 125 CFS.

With respect to measured, in-depth, long-term investigations on flow and river regulation in this reach I would direct you to the 17 years of research done by Dr. Boyd Kynard and colleagues at the Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center adjacent to this river segment in Turners Falls, MA.  The work was largely conducted via the federal Conte Lab under the US Fish & Wildlife Service and later, under the US Geological Survey, when it took over responsibilities for Conte Lab after 1999.  These investigations were also supplemented by funds, research and personnel from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

This research is documented in: Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, published in 2102 by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society and produced by Books on Demand, GmbH, Norderstedt, Germany: ISBN 978-3-8448-2801-6.  Copies can be obtained from the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society:

www.nasps-sturgeon.org/#!publications  Chapter 3 concerns the long-term study of flows and river regulation on spawning success of the last 300, spawning-capable, federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in this river system—covering the period of 1993 – 2005.  This is critical, long-term research that includes seven years of findings from the time before Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project operated as a regulated utility, and the seven years when Northfield’s pumping was unconstrained by regulations and operated to profit from price spikes and drops in the energy spot market using the public’s river.  Deregulation was fully implemented here in 2000 or thereabouts.  All of these issues need careful consideration before sanctioning a rushed study plan in such a critical river reach.

When considering a new license for these facilities, careful consideration of the public’s interest should be made respecting the changes and power generation, flows, and operational practices from the commencement of the current licenses down to the present.  In 2012, Northfield Mountain Station added 40 megawatts of power to its generating facilities through retooling two of its turbines.  This increase nearly equals the total power generated at HG&E’s Holyoke Dam, the next downstream project licensed by FERC.  Two remaining turbines await power up-rates, which is a considerable addition to the generation at this plant, originally proposed and installed at 1,000 megawatts.  Currently, due to mid-license changes, it now produces 1,119 megawatts of power in an unregulated power market. noteworthy and important to be considered in weighing the public’s right to a living ecosystem, upstream fish passage, and protection of endangered species, is that Northfield Mountain’s original license was for a plant used to create “peaking power, and as a reserve unit.”  It can only produce 6-8 hours of stored power before it is spent and needs to purchase replacement power on the open market.  Its stated intention was to peak twice daily in high-demand winter and summer months, and once a day during shoulder months in spring and fall when energy demand is low.  Northfield now generates when demand is present, or—when energy prices will make the greatest profit for investors.  The river and the states have been impoverished by this profound change.

The building of Northfield was based on the availability of current and proposed power from collected regional nuclear sources (New England Power Pool) that included Maine Yankee (closed 1997); Yankee Rowe (closed 1992) Connecticut Yankee’s Haddam Neck (closed 1994), as well as two proposed nuclear plants at Montague, MA (never built.)  Vermont Yankee is currently the only “local” nuclear plant still operating, and its 40 year operating license expired March 21, 2012.  Its continued operation is contingent on findings in the courts.  It is currently operated at a loss by Entergy, and has a failing condenser system which could force its closure.  In short, Northfield is now operated well beyond the bounds of its originally stated purpose.  The public’s river is paying a high price for power, much of it now imported to pump river reserves uphill to Northfield’s reservoir from sources outside the region.  The ecological impacts to fish runs and the damaging flow regimes imperiling endangered species in the river are apparent.

As a facility with great ecological impacts that cannot produce any of its own power–one totally dependent on outside sources for power, one proposal for using this stored power source put before the Federal Power Commission in the 1960s was that Northfield not operate during the spring fish migration due to its impacts on the runs.  It is time to revisit the option of silencing the effects of Northfield Mountain so that towns and cities including Greenfield, Montague, Gill, Turners Falls, and Northfield, MA; and all the towns north to Vernon, Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, VT, and Hinsdale and Walpole, NH receive their share of the river’s ecological bounty.

Northfield does serve a function as an emergency “reserve unit” for ISO New England (Independent Systems Operator) during times of severe heat waves, or high winter demand, to deliver a high volume of power on short notice to accommodate spikes in the power grid.  Northfield could be taken off-line and kept in reserve to be operated by ISO New England solely for that purpose during the low-demand spring energy months when fish are migrating.  This would greatly benefit river ecology, species, and all upstream stakeholders.  New England’s power grid resources are currently rated at 15% above demand.  Removing the damaging effects of these operations on river ecology during critical months is a simple, equitable solution.

Northfield and Turners Falls have greatly profited by incremental power increases and operational changes over the past 34 years, while the public has watched flows, regulation, and conditions in the By-pass Reach wither to a brutal, feast-or-famine regime that denies spawning for endangered fish, and passage for upstream migrants.  This situation has effectively privatized the 2-1/2 miles of river, depriving my town, Greenfield, as well as Gill, of its share of fish and a river.  This de-pauperization has impacted all the towns upstream of Cabot Station and Turners Falls dam into central Vermont and New Hampshire.  None of these municipalities have received compensation, though in many states the loss and damage to these fish populations would be considered “take” under state statutes.  Damage in the By-Pass Reach to the Connecticut River’s last 300, spawning-capable Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon carries a significant federal fine, as well as possible imprisonment.

FirstLight’s new requests for more generation at both licensed sites should be rejected, and the damaging mid-license flow and power increases should be reversed in any new license.  Indeed, since there have now been no less than FIVE different owner/operators of this facility in the last 14 years, it would be prudent to grant only the shortest license possible in order to help track and minimize damage to the ecosystem due to operational/managerial changes, and protect the public’s interest in a living river.

Northfield’s impacts have never been fully measured with respect to flows in the By-pass Reach, but it is clear that fish passage is now at, or below, the paltry levels of the 1980s, and just a fraction of the 40 – 60% passage upstream long-targeted by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of fish that had been passed at the Holyoke Fish Lift.  Regulated, continuously monitored flows should be returned to the By-pass Reach at this time, and continuous monitoring should be included in any new licenses issued.  FirstLight has noted that in-stream data loggers for river levels and flow have been subject to vandalism.  Continuous camera monitoring of river levels and open and closed gate positions at the Turners Falls Dam would go a long way toward insuring compliance with any new license conditions.  This is an inexpensive solution that could easily include a back-up system.

With a federally endangered species present in the By-pass Reach, as well as federal-trust migrating American shad and blueback herring, FERC would do well to consider enforcing regulated flows in this stretch in accordance with law and statutes in the current license.  NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has had the USGS Conte Lab findings from studies in the By-Pass reach by Kynard et al, in their possession since 2007.  This agency—as well as the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, could intervene at any time.  These impacts are also affecting the success of the federal/state Connecticut River Migratory Fisheries Restoration, begun in 1967, which stipulates that all the states share equally in the bounty of migratory fish—as both a recreational and seafood resource.  In several studies by the Massachusetts Cooperative Fisheries Unit at UMass/Amherst from the 1980s it is noted that blueback herring, (Alosa aestivalis) were noted gathering at the base of Turners Falls Dam, and were also noted spawning in the mouth of the Fall River–just 300 feet downstream of the dam, by then Conte Lab Director Steve Rideout.

Further, in the late 1980s, in another mid-license power up-rate, up to 5,000 CFS was redirected out of the By-pass Reach and into the Turners Falls Power Canal for use by Cabot Station and a refurbished Unit # 1, some 1-1/2 miles upstream of Cabot.  This was undoubtedly another blow to the shortnose sturgeon attempting to spawn at their ancient grounds at the Rock Dam, though sturgeon spawning in the Connecticut here was not confirmed until 1993.

In the PAD, it is noted that FERC had not found any compliance issues during its inspections of these two projects.  However, as well as a failure to release minimum flows for sturgeon in 2009, I would direct you the US Environmental Protection Agency’s August 3, 2010 letter and Administrative Order Docket No. 10-016, sent to Mr. James Ginnetti, FirstLight Vice President, noting violations of the federal Clean Water Act.  FirstLight knowingly dumped up to 45,000 cubic square yards of silt into the Connecticut River below its fouled pumped storage plant in an attempt to clear its tunnels and intake.  This illegal enterprise was undertaken by FirstLight after failing to conduct silt removal in a manner consistent with the “due diligence” stated in its operating license.  This dumping took place throughout upstream fish migration season, May 1, 2010, or thereabouts, and continued until the EPA Cease and Desist Order of August 2010.  At that time, FERC then became involved in this egregious license violation, requesting a full report from Mr. John Howard, Plant Manager, in a FERC letter dated August 10, 2010.

In a subsequent fall meeting with agency and non-profit river interests, a FirstLight representative stated that they did not know how to remove silt from their upper reservoir, and that it had never been done successfully.  That admission came after 40 years of operating their plant.  Hence, the public, and FERC are being asked to grant a new license to operators who have not shown they can successfully maintain their facility without profoundly affecting a navigable four-state waterway and a migratory fish highway.  FirstLight has now asked for deadline relief, and is promising to have a study of siltation completed in 2014.  Perhaps all study decisions should be held in abeyance until that time, 2014—which would comply with FERC Licensing Guidelines.

 

Sincerely,

Karl Meyer

Greenfield, MA

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