Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission

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CONNECTICUT RIVER: maybe not left for DEAD after all

Posted by on 04 May 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, Andrew Fisk, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRC, Daniel McKiernan: Director MA Division of Marine Fisheries, Delaware LLC, Eversource, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FirstLight, Julie Crocker, Kathleen Theoharides, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Martin Suuberg, Martin Suuberg: Commissioner MA Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Ron Amidon: Commissioner MA Dept. of Fish and Game, Source to Sea Cleanup, State of Delaware, The Greenfield Recorder, Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Wendi Weber

CONNECTICUT RIVER: maybe not left for DEAD after all

Following the Great Earth Week Walk for River Survival to the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project on April 24th, it’s been inspiring to see people publicly raising their voices to pull the grim, daily carnage of that power-hungry machine out from the shadows. One of particular insight was written by Susan Olmsted and appeared in The Recorder on April 30:
https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-olmsted-NorthfieldHydroStation-40211638 . Later, Ms. Olmsted relayed those same points into the public record of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing comments for the Northfield docket: FERC P-2485. Those are the routes to raising the public profile of our endlessly crippled River—its fate all but buried under confidentiality agreements and generations of inaction by the responsible agencies and so-called protectors. They all continue to lay low in a process that will decide our river’s ultimate viability for decades.


At the NMPS Intake. Photo Copyright © 2021 by James Smethurst

I again must thank the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and Anna Gyorgy for organizing the event. Having written about this broken river for decades, and now having served on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in this endless FERC process since 2012, it was an honor to speak up for the river with a caring and determined crowd in attendance. As I’ve noted to several people, last October I witnessed MA Energy Secretary Kathleen Theoharides and Watershed Council/Conservancy Director Andy Fisk launch a PR canoe tour for elected officials–directly upstream of the killer suction pipes of Northfield. In grim, self-serving fashion neither stepped up to the TV cameras or spoke with attendant reporters to proclaim, “This thing is our river’s greatest killer, it should be closed; this company, FirstLight, wholly re-registered these holdings out of state into Delaware as tax shelters two years back—they have no business here.” Shame on them both.

Watershed Council/CRC Director Andy Fisk, in vest, Chairs the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission 12/10/2018

BTW, we spoke at some depth on the Walk about the NU/Eversource building-of, and current massive connections to NMPS–and also the long-standing financial and Source to Sea greenwashing links between the Watershed Council/Conservancy and Eversource? Well, here’s a little late-breaking Eversource monopoly news: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063731537

Personally, I would feel I’d failed our Great River, this ecosystem and coming generations had I never stood in front of this killer to bear witness to the truth. NMPS is a killer, and no configuration that leaves its grim sucking mouth open for ANY part of the year will retrieve it from being the most lethal machine ever deployed on the Connecticut. After so many years I am grateful that I had that opportunity–to stand up with other people and keep faith with our river–and link with those who will depend on its living waters in the future.


Revival Walk Crowd April 24, 2021 Photo Copyright © 2021 by David Keith

I don’t think a single person in attendance that day believes the snake-oil logic for continuing NMPS: that wasting massive amounts of energy to actually pull a river backward for miles–sucking 100s of millions of fish to their deaths as it wrenches its deadened water up a mountain, will ever be any kind energy “clean” or “green” solution on a heating-up planet whose ecosystems are unraveling. FirstLight’s will merely continue the laying-waste to our long-crippled river. It has nourished life here for millennia; they want to trade that in for their few hours of peak-priced energy.


MA Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides talks to the media–just yards away from Northfield’s deadly intake on a fluff PR tour on the river, October 2020. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

It’s important to remember that this machine’s emplacement ran counter to one of the most significant landmark environmental decisions ever from the US Supreme Court, centered right here on the Connecticut River in 1872. In Holyoke Company v. Lyman the Court decided private operators of dams and facilities on the Connecticut—and thence, for all rivers, must provide safe upstream and downstream passage for migratory fish. Nearly 150 years later, this machine continues crushing millions of migratory fish—among them federal trust American shad, blueback herring and American eels. That killing occurs for eggs, larvae, juveniles and adult fish across the many months of their full migratory life cycles.

With the presence of a real watchdog, NMPS’s illegal presence never would have arisen here. There were decades to have sued for its shutdown. Today, neither its operation–nor FirstLight’s thin mitigation proposal to put up a partial, temporary net across its mouth annually that might spare some adult shad and eels from its suction just two months out of their killing year, even remotely passes the smell test for legal operation in a US Fish & Wildlife Refuge.

Raising public voices and flushing the buried dealings in this race-to-the-bottom FERC relicensing process is now the key to having some real impact in saving the Connecticut.

This Great River still feeds bodies and souls. It’s been struggling for well over half a century without an entity taking on the necessary mandate to “enforce” and take on the employ of a day-to-day legal team worthy of facing down predator corporations. This is an ecosystem destined to failure if citizens stay on the sidelines. But people are getting it; and standing up. Maybe this critical life-line of a river can be revived for the coming half century, to again nourish those of the future.

WORTH NOTING: Massachusetts and federal agency officials responsible for securing a living Connecticut River for your great, great, grand kids–upstream and down, through to Vermont and New Hampshire:

Kathleen Theoharides: Sec. of MA Energy & Environmental Affairs
Martin Suuberg: Commissioner MA Department of Environmental Protection
Ron Amidon: Commissioner MA Dept. of Fish & Game
Daniel McKiernan: Director MA Division of Marine Fisheries
Wendi Weber: Director Region 5, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Julie Crocker: Branch Chief, Endangered Fish Recovery unit, NOAA, Gloucester MA (endangered CT River shortnose sturgeon habitat)

CONNECTICUT RIVER DEADBEAT DEFENSE: endangered species habitat orphaned–again

Posted by on 29 Mar 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Connecticut River Watershed Council, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight Power Resources, Julie Crocker, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Nolumbeka, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Environmental Protection Agency, water lab

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

This is the Rock Dam pool in the Connecticut River at Montague MA on March 10, 2021–just a month from the date male Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon will begin arriving here at the only documented natural spawning habitat for this federal- and state- endangered migrant in this ecosystem. The Rock Dam has been bathed in a grim red soup leaching out of the failing riverbanks adjacent to the Turners Falls power canal–just 400 feet distant, throughout the fall and winter. The riverbanks continue to crumble and ooze into this cobble lined pool today.

What is contained in the red sludge oozing from the crumbling banks besides the long-known iron and manganese? Is it harmful to developing early life stage sturgeon? What is its source, with the diverted Connecticut’s flow looming just above and 400 feet away–as pulses of its current are run through the Turners Falls power canal? Is it actually the Connecticut River trying to return to its own natural riverbed? Is the canal dike failing? Who is responsible for stopping the riverbank failures here–for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, to name just a few–at the Commonwealth and at the federal levels??

And, where oh where can you find a river watchdog with a legal team, an enforcement mandate, and an injunction weeks before these endangered fish return? Certainly not on the Connecticut River.

Clean water. Healthy habitat. Thriving communities. That is the banner slogan of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, recently renamed the Connecticut River Conservancy. Here is a month old statement from that outfit: “We’re not going to test it,” Andrew Fisk, Director, Connecticut River Conservancy. Fisk, who has a water quality testing lab at his Greenfield office, also sits at the head of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission. The CRC also sits on the CT River Streambank Erosion Committee, and sponsors cultural programming that would beg an investigation and the preservation of the failing banks at this ancient fishing site.


March 10, 2021. Looking up the Connecticut River’s grim failing riveranks on FirstLight Power-owned property at the Rock Dam site in Cabot Woods, adjacent to the TF power Canal.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE out of Gloucester MA, under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, has lead responsibility for the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Shortnose sturgeon fall under their Office of Protected Resources. Though their representatives including Kimberly Damon-Randall, Julie Crocker, and and Michael Pentony have attended some of the bi-annual federal-state meetings here on the Connecticut, NMFS has sat mum and on its hands, as the critical habitat continues failing for the shortnose sturgeon at Rock Dam. No investigation, no protection, no worries.

TEXT IMMEDIATELY BELOW IS FROM THE NOAA/NMFS website:

“NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share responsibility for implementing the ESA. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for endangered and threatened marine and anadromous species—from whales and seals to sharks, salmon, and corals.

Under the ESA, the federal government has the responsibility to protect:
Endangered species—species that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.
Threatened species—species that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
Critical habitat—specific areas that are:

Within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing, if they contain physical or biological features essential to conservation, and those features may require special management considerations or protection.”


March 11, 2021. Here, a woman stands in the a compact-car size sink hole along with disappearing hemlock saplings on the Connecticut River bank that’s slumping into Rock Dam spawning habitat.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


Here that same woman stands looking directly up at that sink hole from below on the Connecticut River bank. She’s seen atop further, newer slumping sludge now heading into the river and Rock Dam spawning habitat on March 11, 2021.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

And these following three pictures, all from March 28,2021–less than two weeks before the first shortnose sturgeon arrive here, show the grim and burgeoning sludge and intrusions into critical Connecticut River spawning habitat at the Rock Dam. The main stem river in all photos is to the left.

Riverbank and species protection here, both federal and state, falls under the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate facilities on the Connecticut River.

How can so many institutions fail so miserably at protecting the public’s river?


Connecticut River at Rock Dam, March 28,2021Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


Sludge running into the Connecticut River at Rock Dam, March 28, 2021.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

REIMAGINING A RIVER: The Year without Northfield Mountain

Posted by on 01 Jun 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Coordinator, Connecticut River pollution, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRASC, Daily Hampshire Gazette, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, fish passage, Gary Sanderson, Greenfield, hatchery, Holyoke Dam, ISO New England, Larry Parnass, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, migratory fish, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Old Saybrook CT, pumped storage, Riverkeeper, salmon, salmon hatchery, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Environmental Protection Agency, USFWS

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER VII

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 7, Part 1, REIMAGINING A RIVER: The Year without Northfield Mountain


Sunderland Bridge over the Connecticut. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have found it difficult to write these past days. I am heartsick for my country. Are we to be a fair, generous and courageous people, or just a collection of frightened, soulless bystanders? What world do we want our children to grow up into? I have not been without a few tears at times over the past week. But, I know that good work and living rivers benefit all; they do not hate, judge, murder, or discriminate. So, noting that all of us have some heart-work to do, I continue here, with this also…

On May 1, 2010, I began a 5-day cycling trip from Greenfield MA, downstream to Long Island Sound and back again along the Connecticut River. I set out by bike to highlight and blog about the massively wasteful and misplaced emphasis on the forever-failed, hatchery-produced, 40 year-old salmon program for the river. Meanwhile, across the preceding decade, the formerly growing and robust American shad runs had concurrently experienced precipitous declines in fish passage returns at Holyoke Dam. More importantly, the shad run was literally flirting with extinguishment upstream of the Turners Falls Dam.


Miserable shad tally board at TF Fishway, 2007. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

The plunge at Turners Falls had taken hold pretty much simultaneously with the implementation of newly-legislated electricity deregulation in Massachusetts. It gave owners of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station a license to unleash new, lucrative and disruptive flow regimes in the river—just 5 miles upstream of Turners Falls Dam. Ironically, that same May Day when I left for the mouth of the river, was the day that Northfield Mountain was scheduled to shut down to begin mucking out the decade’s worth of silt and muck they’d inhaled up into their 4-billion gallon mountaintop reservoir.


Cyclist’s Shad Dinner, Saybrook CT. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

Unbeknownst to me–and to NMPS management, once they shut down and started draining their reservoir that net energy loss contraption would not suction the river again for over half a year. They broke their regenerating plant; their muck half-filling the mile-long tunnels connecting it to the river. FirstLight then tried to hide their plight and the evidence as they turned around and massively polluted the river for months. That came to an abrupt halt when the EPA(remember them?) issued a “Cease and Desist” order against them extensive violations of the Clean Water Act.

But, a great upshot benefit soon came into focus: with the river not suctioned and ramping up-and-down at Northfield, successful fish passage at Turners Falls Dam jumped back to well over 400% over 2009 totals–leaping to 16,422 shad passing in 2010(though likely significantly more, since FirstLight’s fish counting software was curiously ‘inoperable’ on 17 different days that spring), while just 3,813 shad squeezed past Turners Falls in 2009. Overall, that 2010 rise peaked at over 500% above that decade’s previous passage averages there. I returned to Greenfield on May 5, 2010, and learned of NMPS’s disastrous de-watering that same afternoon. It was of great interest, but its significance wouldn’t be understood for weeks until the unusual and increasing shad tallies passing Turners began coming in.

Just 3 years earlier, after spending over half a decade working at the Northfield Mountain Recreation Center (where I’d even for a time been secretary for the Safety Committee up inside the pumped storage power plant), I quit. The dismal shad runs, just downstream, were chewing on my soul.


Lynde Pt. Light at the River’s Mouth, Old Saybrook CT. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

By that May of 2010, I’d been doing part-time work for the Connecticut River Watershed Council for a few years. I immediately informed the Council of Northfield’s predicament when I got back. Sadly, I then had to watch their back-seat, kid-gloves handling of an opportunity to prosecute and hold the power company responsible for massive pollution. They stayed quietly in the background, letting the Massachusetts DEP and MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife take charge of holding FirstLight’s feet to the fire. It was a massive opportunity to begin taking on the gross daily river depredations of Northfield Mountain, but it was mostly just squandered here in Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth and MA Fish & Wildlife did little, though some effort by MA DEP and Natural Heritage ultimately bargained for a study of erosion effects on endangered dragonflies as some sort of restitution. I later felt compelled to quit the Watershed Council, which I did five months later. They weren’t players, likely because their board was full of former power company managers and folks still working as consultants, who might see some power company contract work in the future. It was just wrong that–as one of the oldest river organizations on the East Coast, they didn’t have a single lawyer on staff, nor have a mission that mandated enforcement. This was no Riverkeeper.

It wasn’t really until early that June that I began to realize the full ramifications of Northfield’s shutdown. Fish passage numbers just began creeping higher and higher at Turners Falls. I attended a June 22nd meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC)—the Congressionally-authorized fed/state fisheries organization charged with managing and protecting migratory fish on the Connecticut. I asked the agency reps if they’d noticed the numbers and whether they’d been doing any studies on the relationship between the big shad passage at Turners and the turbine disaster upstream at Northfield. “We haven’t looked at it,” said a relatively new USFWS Connecticut River Coordinator Ken Sprankle.


Jilted American shad flashes CRASC attendees at the TF Power Canal. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

Even then, I was as yet unaware that NMPS was STILL not operating. But I got a curious look from FirstLight’s Bob Stira, also in attendance, when I posed that question. That look–and the immediate notice of the shutdown of Northfield Mountain’s reservoir trails that same afternoon, is what soon sent me on a recon trip with a camera up to that reservoir. I started crunching numbers and writing. On a Sunday morning one week later I found an unposted back woods trail up to the reservoir, and there was the whole story.

Days earlier, I’d independently handed over some initial fish passage numbers and gave a few pointed quotes in an email to Gary Sanderson, sports and outdoors editor at The Recorder. Gary enthusiastically included them in his column along with his own comments. The following week, after FirstLight’s sudden and inexplicable closure of trails leading to the reservoir–plus immediately moving their riverboat tour boarding site from Northfield down to Barton Cove in Gill, I snuck up and took a photo of that emptied reservoir with two fat earth movers sitting silent in the silt-filled bed.


Emptied Northfield Mountain Reservoir. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

Their riverboat got moved downriver to hide from the public the chocolate colored river that Northfield’s dumping was creating at intake tunnels next to the Riverview dock site. The silt cloud reached all the way down to the French King Bridge.


Muck-plagued Connecticut River beneath the French King Bridge. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

In late June, Daily Hampshire Gazette Editor Larry Parnass ran my rather telling Northfield Reservoir photo above my expository OpEd bringing to light the disaster there–and the surprise fish passage bonanza occurring at Turners Falls Dam. It wasn’t until the first week of August that the EPA finally stepped in to order FirstLight to cease and desist. They’d been dumping the equivalent of 40-50 dump truck loads of reservoir muck directly into the Connecticut for over 90 straight days. That EPA order would keep Northfield shutdown well into November.

Despite Northfield’s claims of the usefullness of its daily input, and the touted critical emergency readiness of their net-energy loss machine to the grid, no one in New England went without electricity in the long months their river-strangling contraption was lifeless. The only mourners during its 7 month coma appeared to be two climate-change cheerleaders: ISO-New England and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Yet even during a long hot summer–one in which Vermont Yankee shut down for a week to refuel, everyone had essential power. The public didn’t miss Northfield, the shad run blossomed, and a river came back to life.

Why no FISH?, STILL???

Posted by on 30 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: American shad, Atlantic salmon, Bellows Falls Fishway, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRASC, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FirstLight, Gary Sanderson, Greenfield Recorder, Holyoke Fish Lift, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Montague Reporter, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Public Law 98-138, Rock Dam, shad, shortnose sturgeon, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, Turners Falls, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vernon Dam Fishway

The disastrously-emptied Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, June 27, 2010. (CLICK, then Click several times more for FULLEST VIEW) Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

WHY no FISH…
All photos and text Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

By clicking on the blue link WHY no FISH… above, and then clicking it again on the following page, you will open an old PowerPoint presentation that I gave to the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Holyoke in December 2010. It will take several minutes to load, but is then largely self-explanatory, with text available below photos, or by clicking the text tab.

On April 30, 2010 I embarked on a journey to the mouth of the Connecticut River by bicycle, to document the grim crippling of the river and its shad runs due to the lack of enforcement and engagement of fisheries agencies and river organizations. At the time, they were all still cheerleaders for a failed salmon program, ignoring the stark facts of the impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project on American shad and federally endangered shortnose sturgeon.

At the time I was doing part-time work at the Connecticut River Watershed Council, but quit out of frustration and disappointment just a few months after.

Notably, just a year later, the US Fish & Wildlife Service cancelled its long-failed salmon hatchery and “restoration” program on the Connecticut. A year after that, the river conversation became about the impacts of flows in the Dead Reach of the Connecticut, and Dr. Boyd Kynard’s groundbreaking book focusing on federally endangered shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam was released–though only following an unconscionable 3-month embargo of his research data by the US Geological Service.

Nearly a decade later, Northfield Mountain remains the Connecticut River ecosystem’s deadliest machine, directly impacting riverine life and migratory fish abundance in three states.

The Connecticut River now has TWO “conservancies”, but not a single NGO that makes any claims for ENFORCEMENT being a chief (or really ANY) component of their mandate. And ENFORCEMENT is a requisite for any true ecosystem restoration and river protection outfit that means to carry out its mission. This is a four-state ecosystem without a legal team. The Connecticut remains a river unprotected.

ONE WILDLY ILL-ADVISED RIDE

Posted by on 31 Jul 2016 | Tagged as: AMC, American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRWC, Dead Reach, Dr. Boyd Kynard, EOEEA, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, GDF-Suez FirstLight, Jack Buckley, John Bullard, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, NMFS, NOAA, Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Secretary Matthew Beaton, Society of Environmental Journalists, University of Massachusetts, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Wendi Weber

The following piece appeared in The Recorder, www.recorder.com on July 30, 2016, under the heading, “Rafting over prime sturgeon habitat unwise; State officials need to be smarter.”

Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer

ONE WILDLY ILL-ADVISED RIDE

A photo from May 25, 2016 posted on American Whitewater’s website shows Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton and his staff lumbering across a small run of Connecticut River whitewater on a large raft. The short rapid they just surfed over is at a place called Rock Dam. It drops directly into a small, crescent-shaped pool–the sole natural spawning and nursery site for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon.

That Turners Falls site is the last place you’d want to see the Commonwealth’s highest environmental official rafting in May. Rock Dam is critical habitat for survival of the river’s most endangered migratory fish. There’s no other place like it in the ecosystem. It’s also where the state-endangered yellow lamp mussel was last recorded in this reach. Ecological protection is key to preserving the natural heritage there for future generations.

Why Secretary Beaton was at Rock Dam on the heels of the state’s failure to protect endangered timber rattlesnakes in their remaining habitat is a puzzlement. That site is literally where the Connecticut has long been left for dead. Each spring it is alternately starved and inundated—making spawning and survival of young for shortnose sturgeon nearly impossible. Rapid pumped storage hydro fluctuations also help make successful upstream passage for wild American shad, sea lamprey, and blueback herring a 1-in-10 proposition above Turners Falls.

The EOEEA was joyriding on “test” flows returned there specifically for environmental protection. They were meant to allow wild fish to reenter critical habitats where they might successfully gather; then spawn—in a natural pool that would subsequently nurture developing young in critical weeks lasting through mid-June. Those flows were delineated by John Bullard, Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, to not drop below minimum thresholds that would drive spawning sturgeon out. NMFS mandated the higher limits through June 3rd to ensure sturgeon had sufficient time there. That meant healing water for the most impoverished 2.7 miles of habitat on the entire 410 mile Connecticut.

The shortnose is a dinosaur-age fish—a yard-long creature with a shark-like tail and toughened leathery “scutes” instead of spindly scales. It’s the second species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, and the most exhaustively studied endangered migratory fish in the river. It has long had a federal recovery plan, one now including the boatload of science documenting building blocks necessary for its survival. None call for boaters bashing over them during spawning gatherings, or beaching in shallows where developing embryos shelter. If this iconic fish is ever to begin the road back from the brink of extinction, mandated protections and uninterrupted flows are critical at Rock Dam.

Dr. Boyd Kynard, formerly of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the USGS Conte Lab and UMass, led the 17 years of studies that documented Rock Dam as the species’ sole natural spawning site in the ecosystem. He recently stated, “As to protection of the pre-spawning, spawning, and rearing area at Rock Dam, exclusion dates for boating should be the same as the dates for water flow, 15 March to 15 June.”

A “watered” Rock Dam had long-offered sturgeons a wide choice of depths and flow levels they could selectively adjust, and readjust to, when natural surface flow or river temperatures fluctuated beyond optimal conditions for spawning. And that cobble and sand pool was ideal for dispersing tiny eggs and young. Only when flow is present does Rock Dam regain its function as an ancient species shelter, protecting early life stages in currents circulating through cobbled shoals.

In the current 5-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process that will govern hydro operations and ecological conditions here for decades, the Connecticut River Watershed Council and Appalachian Mountain Club are jointly advocating new access points into this delicate habitat for whitewater interests. Both have sat at FERC hearings where Rock Dam has been delineated as critical habitat. In joint AMC-CRWC testimony to FERC they’ve argued their interests in increased flows stem from aquatic habitat concerns, as well as recreation desires. Yet it was AMC that posted dates of those ecological study flows to their website, urging whitewater enthusiasts to exploit them: “Fish Study to Provide Paddling Opportunities: May – June 2016”

Secretary Beaton needs better advice.

Several expert appointees represent the Commonwealth on the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission. Jack Buckley, Director of MA Fisheries and Wildlife studied Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon at UMass. Mr. Buckley’s Anadromous Fish Project Leader Caleb Slater is also well versed on critical Rock Dam habitat. And the US Fish & Wildlife’s Region 5 Director Wendi Weber also sits at that CRASC table. Dr. Weber studied shortnose sturgeon in Georgia’s rivers. Ultimately, turning a failing Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration in Massachusetts into a success story will require government leaders embracing solid government science.

Karl Meyer is on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team for FERC hydro-relicensing studies of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage projects. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

New CT River Stakeholder Comments Submitted to FERC

Posted by on 14 Nov 2014 | Tagged as: American shad, By Pass Reach, Cabot Station, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Dr. Boyd Kynard, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, shortnose sturgeon, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

The following Stakeholder Comments/Requests on FERC Projects P-1889 and P-2485, Turners Falls Hydro and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage were submitted on November 13, 2014 to the Secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science
85 School Street # 3
Greenfield, MA, 01301                                                              November 13, 2014

The Honorable Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
88 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426

ILP COMMENTS–including: Disagreements/Modifications to Study/Propose New Study on Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project P- 1889, and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project P-2485.

Dear Secretary Bose,

The Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project, P-1889, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, P-2485, are currently undergoing studies through the 5-year FERC relicensing process in order to continue plant operations beyond 2018. An Initial Study Report Meeting Summary has been filed by GDF-Suez FirstLight. Please accept these comments on the ISR and my proposals for modifications and new study requirements in the FERC ILP for these projects.

3.3.11 Fish Assemblage Assessment:

Further information/study needed:

FirstLight has declined to undertake any study in the By Pass Reach of the Connecticut River due to stated concerns of interference with spawning and development of embryos of federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in this area. Information from the 2009 EPA study is insufficient to quantify presence and abundance of resident and migratory fish in this reach during critical migration and spawning periods—April through June. That investigation used only 3 sites in the By Pass Reach and was not undertaken to illuminate key species requirements in the current ILP for this critical reach.

NMFS notes that FirstLight has failed to consult with stakeholders on SNS issues here. I am in agreement with USFWS that a dedicated snorkeling, SCUBA, or hookah diving assessment of this critical reach of the four-state CT River be conducted in the riverbed between the Turners Falls Dam and downstream of Cabot Station during the April-June migration and spawning window–and that it continue after FirstLight’s suggested June 30 beginning target date.

I personally snorkeled parts of this reach in May 2013 and found that identification of migrants and resident species was easily attained. An in-situ investigation of this river reach in order to assess species presence and relative abundance is necessary groundwork for making decisions that will impact the 45-year long fisheries restoration on the Connecticut.

Dr. Boyd Kynard, who FirstLight cites in their argument and who spent decades investigating shortnose sturgeon on this reach of the Connecticut told me (personal communication 11/12/2014) that this study method can be accomplished without impacting SNS from the pool below the Rock Dam upstream to the base of Turners Falls Dam.

3.3.12 Evaluate Frequency and Impact of Emergency Water Control Gate Discharge Events and Bypass Flume Events on Shortnose Sturgeon Spawning and Rearing Habitat in the Tailrace and Downstream from Cabot Station.

Further information/study needed: FirstLight has supplied a grid of information for emergency gate and by pass flume openings for the years 2005 – 2012, though 2010 is missing, and we have no information on gate openings and placement for 2011 and 2012 in some instances, other than that there were no instances when greater than 4 emergency flume gates were open.

This study information should be updated with full information for years 2011, 2012—as well as 2013 and 2014 gate opening numbers, placements and CFS information.

Study findings from Kynard and Keiffer, as well as the long-term study of SNS in this reach catalogued in Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, published by the World Sturgeon Society, 2012, specifically delineate emergency and canal flume gate spill as having a profound and deleterious impact on shortnose sturgeon spawning and early life stage development.

As was stated recently by sturgeon biologist Micah Kieffer at a fall 2014 meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, “one instance” of ramped-up or ramped-down flow from TF dam or emergency spill gate and flume operation can abruptly terminate or abort spawning attempts at Rock Dam and below Cabot Station by federally-endangered SNS for the entire year. Operations of emergency and by pass flume gates on the TF canal also can have deadly parching or burying impacts SNS embryos.

FirstLight contends that its operations of Bypass flume gates above Cabot Station are aimed at either emergency load rejection at Cabot Station, or opened to flush debris. They also contend that it is rare to have more than one flume spill gate open, though most of the numbers belie this statement–and the number of days when 4 or more gates have been open during SNS spawning window is highly significant and impactful. Opening of 4 flume gates needlessly diverts flows approaching 4,000 CFS out of the Connecticut’s By Pass Reach at TF Dam, and sends it into the canal to be needlessly flushed back into the river in a configuration that impacts migratory species and imperils annual spawning attempts of the federally-endangered CT River shortnose sturgeon.

In May 2014, I personally witnessed 3 consecutive days when two or more spill gates were open at the TF canal bypass above Cabot—all at the same time of day: 12:25 pm. These openings occurred while both Station 1 and Cabot were generating, which would appear to indicate that the spill gates had been left in this position for hours, or perhaps days, as part of flow regulation in the canal–rather than emergency or debris clearing. I have sent this information to both FERC and the federal and state fisheries agencies.

It is clear to anyone who examines the TF power canal that it is mostly a lake-like, slow-water habitat, save for the thalweg. It is rare to see debris of any significant size floating in the canal. It gets culled off at the trash racks in front of the TF Gatehouse, or at racks on the canal that dog-leg off to Station 1, or it simply settles out in the lake section of the TF Canal.

The minor amount of small, floating debris that enters the fat part of the canal is culled off by the trash rack skirt above Cabot that steers it to the east side of the canal where a bascule gate can be operated to pass anything of significant size.

The continuous openings of two or more bypass gates, up to six and seven gates open on a “non-emergency” basis on the TF canal above Cabot Station during SNS spawning and early life stage periods threatens the recovery of the Connecticut River’s only federally endangered migratory species.

As I have witnessed, multiple gates open on the canal while both Station 1 and Cabot were in operation indicates that canal flow is at times being regulated at this site, rather than at the TF Gatehouse, where excess flow could be delivered to the river in the Bypass Reach, which would nourish, rather than destroy SNS chances for successful spawning at Rock Dam and below Cabot. During SNS spawning season, mid-April – June 30th, endangered species protections dictate that all flow, save for documented, specific emergency situations, by controlled at the Head Gates of the Turners Falls Dam.

Information for years 2013 and 2014 should further be included, and a Study and study season for 2015 should be implemented that documents both the reason and instances when emergency gates were open—and any flume gates above 1 that were open to vent flow from the canal to the ByPass.

I would also like to FERC to have FirstLight include information for 2010, as the May 4 time of 8-gate emergency spill operation occurred exactly at the time frame when Northfield Mountain had burped up a massive sediment spill into its intake, and was trying to flush that pollution downstream. It would be helpful to know the position of both the Bypass flume gates and the positions of TF Dam headgates and bascule and tainter gates at that juncture—as it most definitely impacted SNS present for spawning that year. This would again offer data on whether the TF canal flows were being regulated via emergency by pass flume operation.

3.3.14 Aquatic Mapping of Turners Falls Impoundment:

Further information/study needed:

If migratory fish targeted for restoration in Northern Massachusetts and Vermont and New Hampshire are to continue to be diverted into the TF Power Canal, where few emerge upstream, then an addition to this study should be conducted: Aquatic Mapping of the Turners Falls Power Canal—as it is technically an extension of the Turners Falls Impoundment, and the public has a right to understand the habitat where their fish get privatized.

3.3.18 Impacts of the Turners Falls Canal Drawdown on Fish Migration and Aquatic Organisms

Further information/study needed:

The 2014 Canal Drawdown study was flawed as it occurred over the course of two days, due to an error in spill gate function. Since this is a study of live and dead fish and organisms, as well as the presence of dissolved oxygen, a two-day study time frame represents a flawed evaluation. A night of drying, predation, and fluctuating oxygen presence confounds the results of this work. FirstLight does an annual drawdown of the canal—has down so for decades, thus a mistake at the time of a critical habitat study should corrected by conducting a second year of study.

Further, since FERC has ordered that FL conduct a study of American shad spawning in the TF Canal, it is important to note another anomaly in their canal drawdown work. At five-year intervals the TF Canal receives a full canal muck-out during drawdown. The last one occurred in 2009. This would have been the fifth year—a time when the major muck-out would occur. It did not happen. What occurred was canal “light”, with a large snafu in the middle of the one day study, making it a two day effort. Whether FL agrees that this should have occurred in 2014 or not, a big-dig in the canal is needed regularly, as the sludge, silt and muck settles out and fills in the wide part of the basin.

This must be figured into the “impacts” of the drawdown, as it has profound implications for forcing migratory fish into this habitat, as well as the survival of resident fish and aquatics.

Please see attached photo of the canal muck-out that I took in 2009.

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

 

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

Further information/study needed: the need for this 2016 study will be fully realized if planned studies of American shad movement and spawning in the canal confirm that these fish are experiencing significant migratory delay, and are being coralled into a migratory spawning trap by confused and insurmountable flows or pre-mature warming in artificial habitat that induces spawning in the canal—preventing fisheries restoration on the river in Northern Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

3.3.2 Evaluate Upstream and Downstream Passage of Adult American Shad

Further information/study needed: I concur with FERC’s requirements of an intensive array of radio and telemetry receivers throughout the TF Power Canal to track migrating shad in the canal.

However, I request that FERC require FirstLight, in consultation with stakeholders, add an array temperature monitors calibrated to the radio and telemetry sites to understand whether canal delays for American shad–lingering for an average of 8 days in the TF Canal, are forcing these fish to spawn in this privatized, lake-like habitat because of warmed, shallow, and slow water conditions.

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

Further information/study needed:
I concur with FERC that a full spawning study of the Turners Falls Power Canal be conducted in 2015, undertaken in consultation with stakeholders. Temperature monitors should be deployed to assess impact on migratory delay and spawning on-set; and cumulative impacts of head gate and by pass use of spill gates should be factored into the study to determine the impact of silt deposits on spawning success.

3.3.9 Two-Dimensional Modeling of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project Intake/Tailrace Channel and Connecticut River Upstream and Downstream of the Intake/Tailrace

Further information/study needed: In the Initial Study Report Study Meeting Summary for stakeholder in October 2014, a request was made that FirstLight provide vector maps with arrows and indication of directional flow around the Intake and Tailrace Channel at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project. This is critical information for flow, erosion, and sediment displacement and needs inclusion.

This is information that has been missing on Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Impacts since at least 1974. See attached at end of document.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on these critical relicensing issues.

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

1974 attached file below.

 

Double Standard on the Connecticut

Posted by on 09 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, ecosystem, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC license, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Riverkeeper, Rutland Herald, shortnose sturgeon, Times Argus, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

The following piece appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus during the first week of July.

Copyright © 2013, by Karl Meyer

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turners Falls


                               A River Double Standard

On June 28, 2013, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Director of Energy Projects Jeff C. Wright ruled against the US Fish & Wildlife Service as it sought two extra weeks to review hundreds of pages of just-released Proposed Study Plans for the relicensing of five Connecticut River hydro projects. “The request for a 15-day EOT to file comments on the licensee’s proposed study plans is denied.”  EOT is FERC-speak for “extension of time.”  Those studies will impact this four-state river for the next 20-40 years. Agencies joining that request included the National Marine Fisheries Service, MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife, The Connecticut River Watershed Council, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, NH Dept. of Environmental Service and The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

One big reason for that request was the difficulties in evaluating the impacts of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain/Turners Falls hydro operations on the entire Connecticut River ecosystem.  Beginning last fall, FERC began deviating from its standardized relicensing model when it scheduled public site visits to FirstLight sites weeks before the company released a publicly-required 500-page Pre-Application Document describing its complex pumped storage operations and machinery.

This spring FERC also supported FirstLight’s expedited-request to conduct a series of complicated river flow studies this summer—an allowance falling well outside FERC’s strict licensing timelines.  In doing so they let the company schedule three days of river visits by fed/state agencies smack in the middle of their deadline to comment on FirstLight’s 434-page Updated Proposed Study Plan.  FirstLight released that document June 28th; comments to FERC are due July 15, 2013.  Even after nine meetings with the power company and FERC, many agency representatives continued to decry the lack of critical scientific detail provided in FirstLight documents.  Those were put together by its team of five consulting firms.  Ironically, those handpicked FirstLight firms will conduct the next two years of river studies—the ones meant to protect the river.  A fox and chicken coop analogy applies.

FERC is employing a legal double standard here on the Connecticut.  If you a public agency or citizen seeking protections for the ecosystem—well, even little rules are THE RULES.  At the same time it appears corporations can continuously and sometimes massively ignore federal license requirements with impunity.

In FERC’s own words, the Commission “enforces the conditions of each license for the duration of its term, and conducts project safety and environmental inspections.”  Yet today Holyoke Gas & Electric is half a decade–and counting, in violation of its 2002 agreement to construct facilities to end the evisceration of federally endangered shortnose sturgeon and other “federal trust” fish migrating downstream at their Holyoke Dam facility.  So, why have a license at all? 

Upstream in 2010 GDF-Suez FirstLight dumped some of 45,000 cubic square yards of reservoir sludge directly into the Connecticut at Northfield Mountain over a 90-day period—the equivalent of 40 dump truck loads of muck per day, smack in the middle of fish migration season. Yet in current documents FERC states their inspections have never found FirstLight in violation of its license.

The US EPA found FirstLight in violation of the Clean Water Act in August of 2010 and ordered a massive clean-up, though the ecosystem damage was already done.  In an August 4, 2010 letter EPA sanctioned FirstLight for violating “FERC License No. 2485” and polluting the “navigable waters of the United States.”  A subsequent letter dated August 10, 2013 from FERC’s Biological Resources Branch Chief Steve Hocking to FirstLight Manager John Howard specifically referenced the EPA’s sanctions, directing him to “article 20 of your license.”  Yet there is virtually no FERC mention of that egregious violation in current relicensing documents.

That’s the standard that for-profit companies are held to here.  It rivals the Pirate Code.  Currently there is no watchdog entity on this river willing to go to the mat to protect the ecosystem.  If, like on the Hudson, there was an organization like Riverkeeper—which cites “enforcement” as one of its main responsibilities, these egregious injuries to the Connecticut would not likely stand.  Holyoke Gas & Electric would have been in court long ago for killing endangered sturgeon; and the full range of FirstLight’s lethal impacts on the Connecticut’s migratory fish when all are diverted into their turbine-filled power canal would’ve been fully investigated.  FERC’s inaction is a disgrace.

FERC Director Wright requested that questions regarding that EOT denial go to Ken Hogan at: 202-502-8434, or Kenneth.Hogan@ferc.gov. Ken has presided over the CT River relicensing hearings.  Also, you can find FirstLight’s 434-page “Updated Proposed Study Plan” at: www.northfieldrelicensing.com under Documents.  The public has until July 15, 2013 to send comments on that plan to FERC.  You do that at: www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp .  You must cite FirstLight’s project numbers, P-2485 and P-1889, and be sure to note that you are commenting on the “Updated Proposed Study Plan.”

Karl Meyer is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He lives in Greenfield, MA. Read more at: www.karlmeyerwriting.com

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.

The Last, BEST Hope for the CT River: GET INVOLVED!

Posted by on 06 Nov 2012 | Tagged as: Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, US Geological Survey, USFWS

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission re-licensing process for GFD_Suez FirstLight Power’s Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Power Canal Projects on the CT River officially began with FirstLight’s Notice of Intent to file for two new operating licenses to use our river to make electricity for the next four decades.  Over the next four months–until the end of February 2013, officials from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and directors of fish & wildlife programs will be meeting to decide the critical studies needed to restore and safeguard the Connecticut River through the year 2058.

FirstLight is anxious to see that the main studies guiding the “restoration” of migratory fish is based on moving migratory fish upstream through their power canal, NOT upstream through the ACTUAL Connecticut River, sitting directly adjacent to their canal.  The Power Canal route has proven a disaster, patently deadly for any river restoration.  After 32 years, and study after study, “improvements” enable ONE fish in TEN, to emerge alive, upstream of the Turners Falls Power Canal passage.  It is a death sentence for any true restoration of the river.

To learn more, tune into a broadcast of Greenfield Community Television’s LOCAL BIAS, with host Drew Hutchinson.  In the program I attempt to explain how complexity is clouding the thinking and priorities of our wildlife officials, and h0w simply requiring the Connecticut River to be allowed to flow through its own bed at critical times is the key to having a working ecosystem for the next three generations to come.

Here’s how you can tune in:

Episode (# 127) will be cablecast Wednesday 5:30pm, and Thursday and Saturday 9pm starting November 7th for two weeks. It will also be available via video on demand at gctv.org sometime next week.

The Connecticut River for the next Half-Century: a federal hydro relicensing process already leaving the public behind.

Posted by on 24 Sep 2012 | Tagged as: Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, Conte, CRASC, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC license, FirstLight, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, US Geological Survey

Copyright © 2012 by Karl Meyer.  All rights reserved.

The Connecticut River for the next Half-Century: a federal hydro relicensing process already leaving the public behind.

The only public site visits scheduled in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process for five giant hydro-power facilities and dams operating on the Connecticut River are taking place in less than two weeks.  In Massachusetts few members of the public appear to have been apprized of the opportunity to attend federally-mandated public site tours to GDF-Suez-FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and their Turners Falls Dam and Canal generating facilities.  A few news items appeared in the local media about the visits, published less than 48 hours before the deadline to sign up for tours.

Thus, few members of the public registered in time to tour the complex of facilities GDF-Suez operates on a seven-mile long stretch of the Connecticut that profoundly hamper upstream migratory fish runs, and directly impact the annual spawning success of the federally endangered Shortnose sturgeon. The shortnose sturgeon’s Connecticut River spawning grounds are on a short stretch riverbed a mile below the Turners Falls Dam, adjacent to the US Geological Survey’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center.

The next chance for the public to visit and judge the impacts these facilities have on New England’s Great River may not come around again for two generations. These site visits are the critical beginnings to a six-year process that will dictate whether or not the Connecticut River is a restored and functioning ecosystem through at least the year 2058.  FERC licenses are issued to corporations for up to 40 years. The Connecticut belongs to the public, but licenses allow the leasing of a certain amount of flow to corporations to produce power, while dictating conditions that will protect the public’s interest in a restored and functioning ecosystem–including migratory and resident fish, and other riverine species and critical habitats.

Today, the Connecticut River ecosystem restoration fails profoundly at approximately river-mile 120, where most of the river’s flow and its upstream migratory fish have been shunted out of the riverbed and into the Turners Falls Power Canal.  Most migrants never emerge upstream of the punishing currents, upwellings, slicing turbines and silt-laden habitats found in the power canal.  The Connecticut River above the Northfield Mountain/Turners Falls hydro facilities has never been restored to anything resembling a functioning ecosystem.

In 1975 hearings before the Federal Power Commission (today’s FERC) that established the fish passage facilities that have failed for decades at Turners Falls, Colton Bridges, then Deputy Director of Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife, appeared as a member of the federal/state Connecticut River Fishery Program (established in 1967, and today known as the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission).  Bridges was asked, on the record, about the specific goals of the program:

“The program was designed to establish a run of a million American shad at the river’s mouth and extend their range to historic spawning and nursery grounds near Bellows Falls, Vermont.”

Thirty-seven years later, after Commissioners from four New England States and federally fisheries directors from what is today’s US Fish and Wildlife chose a complex series of Pacific salmon-based fish ladders and the Turners Falls Power Canal as the primary upstream route for migratory fish on the Connecticut, nothing resembling restored fish runs or an ocean-connected ecosystem exists above Turners Falls.

Simply put, those officials chose wrong—and the hangover has impacted this river for decades.

They get just one chance to do it right this time; for all of us.  But again, their silent stance seems to exclude bringing the public in on the process.  No messages or notices on state and federal public websites were posted about site tours and input.  Little or nothing on non-profit, river group sites, either. Once again it’s: “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this.”  That’s a pretty dangerous position, considering the track record.  State and federal agencies have failed to demand operational changes that should have provided protection of federal-trust American shad, and federally endangered Shortnose sturgeon all these decades.  They have simply kept mum about their little mistake at Turners Falls back in 1975.  It has served no one well, save the power companies.

Dr. Boyd Kynard, an expert on migratory fish behavior and fish passage at large dams who helped established the federal Conte Fish Lab under the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990, led studies of the federally endangered Shortnose sturgeon in the Connecticut River at Turners Falls for 17 years.  It’s the fish fisheries officials don’t talk about in public.  Dr. Kynard spent over a decade compiling his work and that of nearly a dozen co-authoring scientists into a book entitled Life History and Behavior of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, published by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society in Germany last February.  Intervention by the US Geological Survey delayed distribution of the book in the US for several months, and it continues to be difficult to purchase.

However, Dr. Kynard, with permission from the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, released a chapter of the book to me for citation while it was “in-press” back in August of 2011.  Since so few members of the public will get a chance to visit these sites, and since the book is currently only easily available through its chief author, Boyd Kynard, (contact Dr. Boyd Kynard at BK Riverfish, LLC, kynard@eco.umass.edu), I’m printing the abstract from the chapter on spawning and the effects of power company regulation of downstream flows at Turners Falls Dam.  The chapter’s science was done at the federal Conte Lab using funds from UMass, along with federal funding from US Fish & Wildlife Service and USGS.  Kynard’s co-author on this chapter is Micah Keiffer.  Note that the “Rock Dam” is not a conventional dam, but an ancient stone formation in the riverbed, creating a natural spawning pool that Shortnose sturgeon have used for centuries.

Abstract: “During 17 years, we studied the spring spawning migration and spawning of adult Shortnose Sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum in the Connecticut River, Massachusetts.  Increasing day length (13.4−14.2 h), not increasing temperature (7.0–9.7°C) or river flow during 13 April–2 May likely triggered pre-and non-spawning adults to leave wintering areas and migrate.  Females initiated pre-spawning migration later than males, during lower flows and higher water temperatures, a strategy that conserved energy after wintering.  The pre-spawning migration failed one year (2002), an event probably related to reduced energetic resources of wintering fish caused by high temperatures and low flows during the previous summer foraging and wintering periods.  Pre-spawning adults homed each year to the same 1.4-kilometer-long spawning reach at Montague, Massachusetts, where river current likely determined where spawning occurred: either the Cabot Hydroelectric Station tailrace (area, 2.7 ha) or the Rock Dam, a natural mainstem fast run (area, 0.4 ha).  Spawning occurred when three spawning suitability windows were simultaneously open: (1) day length = 13.9−14.9 h (27 April–22 May), (2) mean daily water temperature = 6.5–15.9°C, and (3) mean daily river discharge = 121–901 m3s-1.  Annual spawning periods were short (3–17 d), which may be typical when only a few females are present.  Spawning periodicity was 1–5 years (mean 1.4 years) for males and 2−10 years (mean 4.5 years) for females.  Peaking operations at Cabot Station did not prevent females from spawning in the tailrace, but likely displaced and stranded early life stages.  During 14 years, spawning at Cabot Station succeeded 10 years and failed 4 years (28.6% failure); while spawning at Rock Dam succeeded 3 years and failed 11 years (78.6% failure).  Spawning failures at Rock Dam were due to river regulation.  Females spawned in a wide range of water velocities (0.2−1.3 m/s); however, the flow regimes created by river regulation and peaking operations exceeded even their broad adaptation for acceptable water velocities.”

* It should also be noted here that not a single representative from the National Marine Fisheries Service the agency federally mandated by Congress to protect the shortnose sturgeon, signed up to tour FirstLight’s power facilities.

 

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