Connecticut River ecosystem

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RIVER SURVIVAL II: Walk-the-Walk for endangered shortnose sturgeon

Posted by on 11 May 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, CRC, CRWC, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, Northfield Mountain, Rock Dam, Turners Falls, Uncategorized, US Geological Survey


THE ROCK DAM Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

NOTE: Below you will find an invitation to visit The Rock Dam on May 22.

It offers an opportunity to bear witness–to show up and learn at the most magical, neglected, and critically-endangered natural spawning site in the Connecticut River ecosystem. This will be a program about history, and truth-telling, and the long, tenuous struggle of the shortnose sturgeon here. You’ll be right at the place where they spawn, though the surrounding conditions may be troubling. So this may not be a program for everyone.


Slurry flows into the Rock Dam pool Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

If you want something easier, maybe some greenwashing via an on-line program offered by those who have continued the ecosystem destruction here or sidestepped their responsibilities to take action, you might look at offerings from FirstLight/Northfield Mountain for May 18th, or the Watershed Council/CRC/USGS on May 19th. These will be more like armchair, promo productions–for those who like a good story from the sidelines.


Rafters descend on Rock Dam habitat. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The Rock Dam is a place that matters. I hope you can join me and others on a respectful visit to these ancient, critical and sadly disrespected spawning grounds. This May 22nd, on-site Rock Dam program will be about keeping faith with the river, its creatures, and the sanctity of a place that has offered life to all in this Valley for thousands of years.

* PROGRAM DETAILS BELOW *

RIVER SURVIVAL II: Walk-the-Walk for endangered shortnose sturgeon
Turners Falls: meet in parking lot at south end of G Street
Saturday, May 22, 2021
10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Join Karl Meyer on a walk to the Rock Dam—the critically endangered habitat and only documented natural spawning site for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Meyer intervened with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to stop the grim, eroding conditions created by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls Dam. He’s written about sturgeon for years and authored the reknowned “Shortnose Stout” beer brand in 2013. Rock Dam is a 200 million year-old natural gem that’s helped keep the thread for this 100 million year old sturgeon species alive on the Connecticut for centuries. Learn about the shortnose’s life cycle and the industrial and natural history of this abused and undefended site going back to pre-dam times. Come, learn, protect.

Directions: Meet at the parking lot at the south end of G Street in Turners Falls for this 3/4 mile walk (1-1/2 mile round trip). Take Avenue A in Turners Falls to 11th Street. Cross the 11th St. Bridge over the canal and make the first left onto G Street. Follow G to parking lot just before the USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center sign. Program runs rain or shine. ** ACCESS NOTE: this walk is mostly flat, but access to Rock Dam is on short steep terrain

GREAT CONNECTICUT RIVER SURVIVAL WALK DRAWS BIG MULTI-STATE CROWD

Posted by on 27 Apr 2021 | Tagged as: 1872, American shad, Bellows Falls VT, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Refuge, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Daniel McKiernan, Delaware LLC, Eversource, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, Haddam nuclear plant, Holyoke Dam, ISO New England, Julie Crocker, Kathleen Theoharides, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Martin Suuberg, Martin Suuberg:, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Millstone 1, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, net-loss power, NMFS, NOAA, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, NU/WMECO, P-2485, PSP Investments, Public Sector Pension Investments, river cleanup, Riverkeeper, salmon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Source to Sea Cleanup, State of Delaware, Treasury Board of Canada, Uncategorized, United States Supremed Court, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont, Vermont Yankee

GREAT CONNECTICUT RIVER SURVIVAL WALK DRAWS BIG MULTI-STATE CROWD

Claire Chang of the Solar Store of Greenfield speaks to attendees. Note: see http://solarisworking.org/. Photo Copyright © 2021 by James Smethurst. All Right Reserved

Northfield MA. The biggest story on the 410-mile long Connecticut River this Earth Week did not center on yet another promo video or soft news story about people doing trash cleanups. It took place on Saturday, April 24th, when more than 70 people of all ages–from as far as Springfield, South Hadley and Northampton MA–all the way upstream to Putney VT, turned out for a 3-mile river walk to learn about the 50 years of devastation that the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station has wrought on their four-state ecosystem.

THE DAY’S SPEAKERS BEARING WITNESS

Attendees heard from host, Traprock Center for Peace and Justice’s Anna Gyorgy, about the long, deep connection of this river killing to nearly 50 years of nuclear power excess and damages (www.traprock.org). They heard from Claire Chang of the Solar Store of Greenfield about alternative energy, solar installation and bulk storage alternatives to destroying whole ecosystems. And, I spoke at length about the long, grim and deadly history that has brought us to a crossroads for a living future for the Connecticut River vs. this massively violent machine.

WHERE THE RUBBER NEVER MET THE ROAD

What people heard about was that shutting up NMPS’s killer intake pipes is the only river cleanup that matters. Doing just that would have saved a now-crippled ecosystem–had there been an actual watchdog organization on the Connecticut in 1972–or again, when Vermont Yankee’s license expired in 2012. Those are the cleanups that would have spared an entire ecosystem, decade-upon-decade of this hide-in-plain-sight sucking wound.

THE LEGACY OF FAILURES

They learned the Commonwealth Massachusetts has endlessly failed this ecosystem, facilitating its exploitation to the detriment of 3 other New England states by not protecting it. And, that the federal and state fish agencies have failed it as well by first chasing, then never relinquishing, their long-failed salmon experiment, for a fish not seen here since 1809. And also that the NGO claiming guardianship here since 1952, massively failed New England’s River–never stepping up to challenge and prosecute the devastation of the power companies, nor calling out or suing government agencies charged to protect it under state and federal law.

LANDMARK SUPREME COURT DECISION 1872: HOLYOKE CO. v. LYMAN

Living rivers do not flow backwards. People walked a mile and a half to the intake pipes of a deadly machine that has laid waste to billions upon billions of fish across a half century—literally suctioning them to death while pulling miles of river current into reverse. Folks learned that building of this net-power-loss, river-gorging appliance and the deadly impacts it created on migrating fish, particularly American shad—actually flew in the face of the 1872 landmark Supreme Court decision in Holyoke Company v. Lyman, a full century before NMPS was built. Given that law, it had no right to exist here at all.</strong>

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Robert Flaherty All Rights Reserved.

What did that landmark decision require of dam system owners and private companies operating on the Connecticut–and on all rivers of the United States a century and a half ago? It said all must provide safe fish passage, upstream and down of their facilities, as “public rights.” Visitors also learned that the Canadian owners of this 365-day-a-year slicing machine want only to provide a flimsy net, part way across its killer mouth, for just over two months out of the year. That will largely leave the eggs, larvae and juveniles of most species—including migrants, in full peril. Names of agency leaders charged with saving the river for our grandkids were supplied.

NOTE:text below derives from a The GREAT RIVER WALK handout

NO NEW LICENSE TO KILL: THE NORTHFIELD MOUNTAIN PUMPED STORAGE STATION: A HALF CENTURY OF WASTE, DEATH AND ECOSYSTEM DESTRUCTION.</strong> Notes from Karl Meyer, FERC relicensing Stakeholder and Intervener since 2012

To COMMENT: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project License P-2485 (www.ferc.gov E-comments) Include your name, address, project # P-2485 and a brief. specific remedy for FERC to apply.

Owner:venture-capital firm PSP Investments, a Canadian Crown Corporation.
Operating in MA as: FirstLight Power Resources.
Current tax sheltering llc registration since 2018 out of MA & New England: in Dover, Delaware

NMPS is an energy consumer. It has never produced a single watt of virgin electricity. Every day this machine consumes huge pulses of electricity from the power grid to suck massive gulps from the Connecticut backward and uphill for hours on end at a rate of up to 15,000 cubic feet per second(cfs). That sucking pulls the Connecticut backward at times for over 3 miles downstream. SOURCE: FERC P-2485 relicensing Study 3.3.9 appendices.

This is not a hydropower plant; it is an energy wasting machine operating exactly like an electric toilet. It runs on imported electricity, profiting on the buy-low/re-sell high model.

RUNNING BACKWARD FOR DECADES

**VIEW Federal Power Commission document with link HERE FPC 1974 flow reversals

That 15,000 cfs is the equivalent of 60, seven-bedroom mansions being swallowed each minute, for hours on end—with everything from tiny fish eggs to full sized American eels obliterated by its turbines. Twenty-four species are subject to that suction. For shad alone it’s estimated that over 2 million juveniles and 10 million eggs and larvae die here annually. That’s just one species. How many billions of fish die annually, across all species—and now across 49 years? A fixed, monitored, year-round barrier screen, fully across its mouth was required.

NMPS then later sends that deadened water back down in peak-priced pulses for a few hours in the morning and afternoon at up to 20,000 cfs. A living river goes in, all that comes out is dead. The Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station does its killing in the heart of the Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National FISH & Wildlife Refuge. This Canadian company is operating in the heart of a four-state ECOSYSTEM, crippling and pulling it apart daily. It should be relegated to rare emergency use.

The scheme to pair this eviscerating machine with future ocean wind is a nightmare—fully a Greek tragedy. Ocean wind sent to kill its river babies. Future generations require a living river.

Energy should be consumed close to where it is produced. That is where the load is. In New England that load is at the coast. Large-scale compressed air plants can be built at New Bedford, Everett, Boston, Somerset and Middltown RI for large-scale wind energy storage. If FERC allows massive LNG export farms to be built at the coast, it can require space for “local” energy storage—right near all those current “natural” gas tank farms of today.Storage needs to be adjacent to those metro cities where it is consumed. That battery storage can be constructed is a given.

In the age of Climate disruption the goal of an electricity network–one safe from mass outages due to cyber attacks and wind and flood events–disrupting the current corporate mega-grid built for huge area energy relays, should be micro-grids and distributed generation.

That decreases vulnerability and will encourage CONSERVATION—never mentioned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or ISO-New England. That is the formula that begins to tackle climate disruption. It is time for Re-Regulation of the power grid. It is time for TRANSPARENCY in the Commonwealth’s energy policy–done behind closed doors with monopoly capital interests running the ISO-NE and NEPOOL table, while excluding even journalists from meetings. This plant squeezes the life out of approximately 1-1/2 billion gallons of Connecticut River water daily—its deadened re-sale power for export—for “load” consumers far from the small towns and cities of this 4 –state ecosystem.

NMPS was built by WMECO/Northeast Utilities(NU) to run off the bloated excess juice of their Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, 15 miles upriver. VY closed forever in 2014. NU today remains massively wired into and out of this facility’s energy resale loop. Today NMPS deadly consumption continues on 50% climate scorching natural gas, 25% nuclear from NH and CT, and 10% actual hydropower from Canada.


The massively fouled Connecticut River and NMPS’s intake tunnels on September 6, 2010. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

In 2010 NMPS choked on its own effluent, and unexpectedly did not run for over half a year after fouling its massive tunnels with silt and muck. Shut down from May 1st thru early November– after being hit with a “cease and desist” order from the EPA for secretly and illegally dumping that grim effluent directly into the Connecticut for months, in gross violation of the Clean Water Act. Nobody lost power during NMPS’s surprise shutdown for over half a year. That’s despite arguments from grid operator ISO-New England about how necessary its killer, daily re-sale juice is to keeping the lights on. Even during record-breaking summer heat in 2010—when VT Yankee even shut down for refueling, the power grid held together just fine.

What did happen in the 4-state ecosystem—quieted without Northfield’s massive disruption, was that dismal fish passage for American shad just downstream at Turners Falls dam shot up 800% above yearly averages for the previous decade. That was the ugly decade when NMPS began operating differently—after Massachusetts decided to deregulate electricity markets.

NMPS is an ecosystem-crippling, anti-gravity machine, gobbling vast amounts of energy to send a river into reverse and uphill—a buy-low/re-sell-high, cash cow regenerating set-up.

This machine is a crime against nature.

At a time when the planet is dying, you revive ecosystems. This river belongs to our grandchildren and the future, not to greedy foreign investment firms. The corporate concern here is merely the weight of water—live fish and living rivers are nuisance expenses. What would suffice here would be a bunch of pulleys and a giant anvil, like a Roadrunner cartoon. Stop killing the future for our kids.

ORIGINAL OWNER/BUILDER: WMECO/Northeast Utilities—completed in 1972 to run off the excess electricity from its sister plant, Vermont Yankee nuclear station, completed in 1972. NU also had ownership in VT Yankee. Today NU/Northeast Utilities is “doing business as” Eversource. Eversource remains massively wired into and out of NMPS/FirstLight facilities.
Eversource/NU never left us. They just decided to dump their creaky and massively-fined nuclear plants at Millstone and Haddam, to become a bigger, more concealed monopoly. What they did was transfer emphasis to T & D–Transmission and Distribution. They would make their bucks by CONTROLLING THE ENERGY TOLL ROAD. Note the massive new wire structures and the some 18-line-long laundry list of charges on your energy bill for simply for T & D. They have as yet not figured out how to get a kick back for delivering STATIC ELECTRICITY.

Eversource is perennially green-washed through its major-money sponsorship of the Connecticut River Watershed Council/Conservancy’s “Source to Sea Cleanup.” NU/Eversource and the Council (founded 1952) have a long, close, deep-pocketed history. Thus, this green-washed, river-killing apparatus has been quietly-enabled for decades.

A 2021 Brown University study named Eversource as MA’s largest energy spender against clean energy and climate legislation: https://ibes.brown.edu/sites/g/files/dprerj831/files/MA-CSSN-Report-1.20.2021-Corrected-text.pdf

The following companies are now in business as “wholly owned subsidiariesof Eversource:
Connecticut Light & Power, Public Service Company of New Hampshire, PSNH Funding LLC 3, NSTAR Electric Company, Harbor Electric Energy Company, Yankee Energy System, Inc., Yankee Gas Service, NSTAR Gas Company of Mass.(EGMA), Hopkinton LNG Corp., Eversource Gas Transmission II LLC, Eversource Holdco Corporation, Eversource Investment LLC, Eversouce Investment Service Company LLC, Aquarion Company, Aquarion Water Company, Aquarion Water Company of Connecticut, Aquarion Water Company of Massachusetts, Inc., Aquarion Water Capital of Massachusetts, Inc., Aquarion Water Company of New Hampshire, Inc., NU Enterprises, Inc., IP Strategy LLC, Eversource Energy Service Company, The Rocky River Realty Company, Holyoke Water Power Company. Eversource has residual interest in nuclear plants they’ve sold: Seabrook NH and Millstone CT.

Part ownership in: Alps to Berkshires LLC, 50% in transmission line to NY State, 15% ownership in Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, BSW Holdco LLC, BSW ProjectCo LLC, Bay State Holdco LLC, Bay State Wind LLC, Northeast Wind Energy LLC, North East Offshore, LLC, New England Hydro-Transmission Electric Company, New England Hydro-Transmission Corp. Eversource also has interest and ownership in companies that own and manage decommissioned nuclear plants they once owned, including: Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, 65%, Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company, 24%, Yankee Atomic Electric Company, 52%. SOURCE: https://www.eversource.com/content/wma/about/about-us/doing-business-with-us/affiliates/list-of-affiliates

RESPONSIBLE FOR SECURING A LIVING RIVER FUTURE FOR OUR KIDS:

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

It is time to break up the monopolies, re-regulate energy in Massachusetts for our children’s sake—and:RESTORE the CONNECTICUT RIVER ECOSYSTEM.

The Connecticut River at Earth Day 2021

Posted by on 22 Apr 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River ecosystem, Earth Day 2021, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Recorder, vtdigger.org, wrsi.com

Below are links to a podcast and recent op eds that appeared in the Recorder, Gazette, and VTdigger.org. The podcast is also an invite to this Saturday’s Great Walk for River Survival, through the French King Gorge.

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

https://wrsi.com/monte/an-earth-week-walk-for-river-justice-surival/

https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-meyer-EarthDayAndARiver-LicenseToKill-40056122#lg=1&slide=0

https://www.gazettenet.com/Guest-columnist-Karl-Meyer-40061119

https://vtdigger.org/2021/04/18/karl-meyer-why-renew-a-federal-license-to-continue-killing-a-river/

The first picture above was taken at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls, showing the failing Connecticut River banks there on 4/21/2021–which slough down into the Rock Dam pool, the only documented natural spawning site for the federally endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. The second photo from this Earth Day Eve, below, shows several people walking along the exposed cobbles of that habitat, just 150 feet from the orange puss running from those banks. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

This last picture looks down toward the suction tunnels on the River at Northfield on September 6, 2010.

Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

The huge apparatus shown there heading out into the river constitutes the massive dredging operation FirstLight was ordered to undertake by the EPA after dumping thousands of tons of silt and muck directly into the river for over 90 straight days. Northfield created its own instant disaster, and it remained sanctioned and inoperable for over half a year. Shad passage on our quieted ecosystem at Turners Falls Dam jumped 800% over the previous decade’s average, and the power grid held together just fine
without Northfield Mountain’s deadly, fish-crushing, daily suck-and-surge regime.

SUNSHINE WEEK: a two for one exploring our river’s NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE, ISO-NEW ENGLAND and the public’s RIGHT TO KNOW!

Posted by on 18 Mar 2021 | Tagged as: anti-gravity machine, climate-destroying, climate-scorching, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Watershed Council, conservation, Eversource, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, FirstLight Power Resources, Greenfield Recorder, Holyoke Gas & Electric, ISO New England, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, net-loss power, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, nuclear nightmare, Peter Brandien, Uncategorized

NOTE: Since this is SUNSHINE WEEK, highlighting the PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW, the following posts contain material that few might know otherwise, or see anywhere else. The first, immediately below, is my piece that appeared in The Recorder on March 13. BUT PLEASE, do continue reading as the second offering is my letter and information request to Mr. Peter Brandien, Vice President of System Operations at ISO-New England. Brandien recently wrote a glowing endorsement of the grim machinery at Northfield Mountain to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Here, I reply to his letter, and invite him to take part in a public forum on the future of the Connecticut River ecosystem.

THE CONNECTICUT’S NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE
Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

This April 30th the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, the most efficient aquatic killer of all nuclear age machines installed on the Connecticut, begins its 4th year without a new federal license. NMPS’s massive suction kills everything it inhales. Federal studies on America shad show tens of millions of eggs and larvae extinguished annually, plus the deaths of over 2 million juvenile shad sucked in on migrations to the sea. Its unstudied impacts on 20 odd other resident and migrant species leave plenty more death to ponder.

Vermont Yankee—the nuke Northfield once sucked its energy from, closed in 2014. Rather than creating virgin electricity, NMPS is a net-loss, gravity-defying machine that consumes 30% more juice than it returns to the grid. Its annual power deficit is so high it actually cancels out most of the real hydropower input generated yearly in the Turner Falls canal. Today half of NMPS’s net power loss operations are powered on climate-scorching natural gas, another quarter comes from imported nuclear, and the rest largely from shipped-in Canadian hydro.

The New England power grid has and can chug along without NMPS’s massive daily impacts. But it’s a big-grid cash cow that ISO-New England–the “independent” system operator, has long kept ratepayers tied-to for its few hours of deadly, once-through, stored generation. That deadly, daily regime should have long ago been stopped–relegated to its early-stated use in rare power emergencies. But the Baker Administration and PSP Investments, NMPS’s Canadian parent owners, are looking to pair-up and shackle further use of this ecosystem crippler with distant ocean turbines for decades. It’s a twisted, fairytale climate “solution”—an environmental nightmare for future generations. The Greek myth will be told as “Ocean Sent to Kill Its River Children.”

This April 30th Hudson Riverkeeper will celebrate the end of a long nuclear-age nightmare. Entergy’s last Indian Point nuke shuts down for good that day, years before its license expires. That comes via legal agreements hammered out by Riverkeeper along with the State of New York—and joined by the group Scenic Hudson. That early shutdown will reportedly save the 1.2 billion fish, larvae and eggs sucked to their deaths in Indian Point tunnels where flow is massively swallowed at rates of 2-1/2 billion gallons per day. Northfield Mountain’s river gorging is yet more grim. Its anti-gravity, twice-through turbines render it fully lethal.

Riverkeeper’s victory actually dates to 1966 when a small group of commercial and recreational anglers formed the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, vowing fight Consolidated Edison. Giant Con Ed wanted to blast apart Storm King Mountain for a cavernous, river-suctioning pumped storage plant. Huge slugs of energy would be needed to suck hours-long river diversions uphill to a reservoir. The mega-juice needed for that massive lifting would hail from the excess output of the Indian Point nuclear station. But HRFA saw pumped storage as a pact with the devil, a grim fish shredder. They took to the streets; then dragged Con Ed into court.

It took 15 years, but in 1980 HRFA and Scenic Hudson won that David and Goliath battle against Con Ed’s building of Storm King. It’s credited as spurring the environmental movement in the United States. HRFA changed its name to Riverkeeper in 1980. Today its take-no-prisoners mission in prosecuting corporate offenders is a model of river defense. Riverkeeper and its offshoot Waterkeeper now boast over 350 chapters across the US and worldwide. They’ve won cases on the Hudson against the likes of Exxon-Mobil, General Electric—even New York State, itself.

In Massachusetts, Northfield’s nuclear-age killing continues daily–though this river’s last nuke, Vermont Yankee, shut in 2014. NMPS has been the festering daily wound to this ecosystem from the Vernon Dam to Turners Falls since it was completed by WMECO/Northeast Utilities in 1972 to run on VY’s juice. VY and Northfield came on line together. Founded in 1952, The Connecticut River Watershed Council was over a decade old when NU/WMECO proposed their contraption in the mid-60s. Sadly, CRWC never challenged them. They were fully 20 years old when Northfield went live. Forty decades on CRWC remained silent again on NMPS in 2014 when VY closed.

While HRFA waged its battle, opportunity was endlessly squandered here. Today NU remains the perennial major funder/sponsor of CRWC’s marquee “Source to Sea Cleanup.” They now do business as Eversource while CRWC is renamed the Connecticut River Conservancy. A close financial relationship has long existed between the two. In January Eversource was cited as the largest spender in opposing climate and clean energy bills in the Bay State. The study, “Whose Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts,” was authored by Galen Hall, Trevor Culhane, and J. Timmons Roberts of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab. Why do the green-washing for a corporation that built our river’s worst nightmare? For mission, fight and enforcement, other models exist.

Karl Meyer is has been a member of the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team for the federal relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and Turner Falls hydro projects since 2012. Meyer lives in Greenfield MA. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

BELOW: my March 18, 2021 Letter to Mr. Peter Brandien, Vice President of System Operations, ISO-New England (the “independent” system operator)

Photo: The emptied and dead Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir in 2010 when an earlier FirstLight incarnation choked on its own suctioned silt, failed massively, and was later caught dumping its muck directly into the Connecticut River for MONTHS until sanctioned by the EPA for gross violation of the Clean Water Act. Northfield sat idle, emptied, and sanctioned by the EPA, and didn’t operate from May until November. The power grid held together just fine… Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Dear Ms. Horgan and Mr. Brandien of ISO-New England,

Thank you for sharing your endorsement of PSP Investments FirstLight Power facilities, registered in Delaware and owned by that Canadian venture capital firm with us all. I’m sure you make them very happy. As both a stakeholder participating in the FERC investigations to explore the now-extended federal licenses of the projects you mention, P-2485, and P-1889, I have a few questions I’d love answered–particularly since I’m a journalist, and this is Sunshine Week, a time designated to spotlight government transparency and accountability. It’s about the public’s right to know.

Please, Mr. Brandien, can you tell us–in general terms of course, exactly how many times this past year that the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project was called up for immediate emergency use–or whether is was used in that capacity at all? Just broadly, please? Not at all? Once, in a year? Twice? I recall two, perhaps three times large utility suppliers were given a little standby notice, and cautioned not to promise out all their juice. But that is different than NMPS, and nonetheless, here we are talking about a few individual days out of the entire operating year.

Was there even a single grid slump or disruption where the year-round power loss and consumption of that NMPS machine actually was deployed by ISO, or is it just a hugely impactful standby machine–allowed to make gobs of profit and net-loss dumps onto the wires as an everyday hostage supported by ratepayers?

I’m wondering if you ISO folks have ever heard of conservation? It’s a term even older than NMPS. Another term of similar vintage is ecosystem–do you know that one? I’m wondering if you have grandchildren at all–those little people who are now relying on us to pass along living ecosystems?

I find it funny how your grid works at times. Here, at places like Northfield, the river gets reversed, the ecosystem pulls apart, and millions of fish and aquatic creatures are extirpated with its daily use, while the profits get washed through Delaware, then head to Canada. As I have written, the massive waste to pump a river uphill there erases nearly all the megawatt input created by actual hydro downstream at Cabot Station and Station 1. Meanwhile, FirstLight has promised out some 40% of that downstream juice as “clean” and “renewable” power to Eastern Massachusetts towns far from this Valley–even from where you are located in Holyoke. That leaves no local energy for the residents where that hydropower is produced. Are you familiar with the term environmental justice?

One last funny twist here. As noted, we share the same valley–you are in Holyoke. I’m pretty sure the struggling folks in Holyoke have very little understanding that a special line from the Holyoke Gas and Electric Company Dam feeds directly to the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center run mostly for private interests including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University and Boston University, as well as EMC Corp., of Hopkinton, an information storage, backup and recovery firm, and Cisco Systems Inc., a California-based Internet network equipment maker. That dedicated line sucks up something like 30% of all the hydro generated at the Holyoke Dam to run a heat sink of 16,000 high speed computers in a nearby building that employs slightly more than a dozen people. Who does this benefit in ISO’s big picture? Climate, ecosystems?; the grandchildren?–the citizens of Holyoke? You also run a massive bank of computers at your facility in that town. I know that you have some “green” plantings and solar panels around the facility, but could you tell use how much juice you consume in a year?

Finally, as a journalist I’d like to offer an opportunity for a public discussion about energy and the future of the Connecticut River ecosystem. I appear at times on a few local radio stations down in Northampton. It would be illuminating to put together a public forum on these topics and you can share with Valley citizens what you have in store for our futures. I’m quite serious. Please let me know, and I’m sure I can get it arranged.

Oh, and PS: We’d love to see the ban on journalists ended at NEPOOL, the big corporate steering ship that tilts and informs so much of your policy.

Sincerely and all best wishes,
Karl Meyer
Fish and Aquatic Studies, P-2485; P-1889.

Karl Meyer, MS
Member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

CONNECTICUT RIVER IMPEACHMENT DAY

Posted by on 15 Feb 2021 | Tagged as: Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, conservancy, critical habitat, defense, Endangered Species Act, EPA, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FirstLight, impeachment, IS IT CLEAN?, Monte Belmonte, Northfield Mountain, podcast, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, The River, Turners Falls, Uncategorized, water lab, WRSI

CONNECTICUT RIVER IMPEACHMENT DAY: FEB.13,2021
Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The Connecticut River and the effluent entering it at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls on February 13, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Rock Dam. Ancient fishing place at Peskeomscutt. Critical habitat, gathering and spawning place for the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon–federally endangered fish with genetics as old as the ancient basalt that defines their habitat. Rock Dam, ancient cultural site where the riverbanks fail in yards-wide gashes, bleeding an oozy orange puss that flows in a constant ribbon into the age-old riverbed there.

(FOR A PODCAST< related to this post go to: https://wrsi.com/monte/saving-rock-dam-from-damnation/. It is from WRSI/The River radio, with host Monte Belmonte)

This is how ecosystems die, how a planet dies, bit by little bit–day after day. Sixteen months ago I submitted documents and pictures of this degradation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All parties, stakeholders, and federal and state fisheries agencies were apprised of my FERC report and intervention. All have long staked claims as this great river’s protectors.

Ever-so-slowly FERC responded to my report of critical habitat degradation by absurdly requiring FirstLight do its own investigation of their bank failures and discharge running to the only documented natural spawning site of the only federally endangered migratory fish in the river. FirstLight, in representing itself, found itself exonerated of responsibility. Blame for the constant red tide was somehow placed at the feet of the public.

Day by day, by day, by day, by day–this is how a river rots, while so many sit on the sidelines. Day by day, in the midst of an endless legal relicensing process addressing environmental conditions in New England’s River, the assault continues, the banks fail–the orange sludge enters. A simple act of courage would have sufficed: just scoop some bank sludge, have it analyzed. Take a beaker’s worth of water to your lab; run a test.

If you brag about your water quality lab and–yet week after week, month upon month, season after season, ignore the grim juice invading critical river habitat right on your Greenfield doorstep, you are a failed entity. You have no valid claim as a solution, you are this river’s problem. If riverbanks fail in the most critical reach of the main stem river in the midst of relicensing on your watch and you don’t sue, your erosion committee is just window dressing.

Today two conservancies lay claim to championing New England’s Great River. But there is no conservancy in evidence here–no rescue, no enforcement, no prosecution. There’s been no sampling, even as little fish promo rescues were videoed in the muck-filled power canal just 100 yards away. Upstream in the actual riverbed, more happy-time swimming podcasts were filmed, while not a single lens was pointed at the Rock Dam pool’s grim debasement, a quarter mile distant. Sixteen months, and a deafening silence here–while congratulatory broadcasts are run celebrating how the Connecticut was cleaned-up and saved… Really. Really? Cleaned up, saved???


The Rock Dam spawning pool, the most critically endangered habitat on the entire Connecticut River. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Here, at the most critical habitat in the entire river ecosystem, it might as well be 1940. It appears the Clean Water Act applies only to other rivers; the Endangered Species Act–that’s a law for somewhere else. To protect the life force of a river requires diving in like an ER doctor, protecting the core at all costs. Any ancillary PR busy work around the tributary edges can happen sometime down the road. The victim must be stabilized, first, lest there’s nothing left to save.

If you lay claim to a river, you have a duty to preserve, protect and defend. Not when its easy; not just where it won’t ruffle any feathers. Today, there is no defense for what is here, on this river–central artery of a fish and wildlife refuge. Truth is, there is NO DEFENSE ON THE CONNECTICUT RIVER, no entity posting-up against corporate abuse. None exercising the courage or integrity to prosecute a real defense.

Conservancy here, appears to equate with comfort zone. Its a safe place, in a refuge where the by-word seems to be simply–go along to get along. Podcasts are no substitute for intervention and prosecution; filing endless pages of testimony is merely more talking-the-talk.

Enforcement is what’s been missing on New England’s river these last 70 years. In its absence the life force of an ecosystem has teetered on the edge of viability for generations in the Connecticut’s critical reaches at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain. Today the grim faltering can be easily witnessed daily at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls, where hour upon hour, day after day, critical habitat is bathed in failure; a great river remains undefended.

On other Northeast rivers–ones smaller, and with much younger organizations formed for their defense, things are handled differently, directly. They take defense as an obligation; they employ staff lawyers, investigate, and take action. Instead of remaining silent and sidelined for generations while tethered to the cash handouts of the corporate chow-line–when they witness crimes they take the bastards to court.

Here, with no watchdog to fear, they are playing for keeps.

END NOTE: generations of Canadian shareholders at PSP Investments, FirstLight’s parent owner, are very much looking forward to enjoying the profits from a river and ecosystem shredded by the daily net-loss operation of Northfield Mountain. What will our great grandkids think of what we failed to do here?

NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER AND THE RIGHTS OF NATURE

Posted by on 25 Jan 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River pollution, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FirstLight, IS IT CLEAN?, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, The Greenfield Recorder, Turners Falls power canal

NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER AND THE RIGHTS OF NATURE

NOTE: Grim red soup entering the Connecticut at the Rock Dam from FirstLight’s failing riverbanks December 22, 2020. This is the most biologically important endangered species site in the entire ecosystem, as well as one of longstanding cultural and historic import. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER AND THE RIGHTS OF NATURE from The Greenfield Recorder January 4, 2021

NOTE: Randy Kehler was kind enough to honor my work with several mentions in the essay below. More importantly, he makes his own eloquent statements about the inherent dignity and right to life of New England’s river–as well as highlighting the decades of abject failures to act from river groups who’ve long-claimed public trust ownership for the river’s safeguarding and have miserably failed to act in its behalf. Please see Randy Kehler’s text below, followed by my Recorder essay it refers to from December 12, 2020.

The weekend Recorder of Dec. 12 featured yet another passionate, well-documented“My Turn” essay by Karl Meyer (“The selling of New England’s River”) about the ongoing destructive impact on the Connecticut River’s animals (especially fish) and plants —and on the river itself —of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain hydro-electric facilities owned and operated by the Canada-based First Light Corporation, a “Canadian-owned, subsidiary of venture capital giant PSP Investments.”

Prompted by Karl’s essay, I ask myself why little or nothing (certainly nothing effective) continues to be done to protect “New England’s River” — surely the most prominent and precious natural feature of this region —and stop this ongoing desecration that Karl describes. Where are the citizen lobby efforts, the educational campaigns, the petitions,the protests, the acts of nonviolent civil disobedience that have successfully challenged other corporate assaults on our local and regional environment (e.g., local tri-state opposition to the Entergy Corporation’s radioactive Vermont Yankee “nuke” and, more recently, Western Massachusetts towns’ united opposition to the Kinder Morgan Corporation’s natural gas pipeline project)? In short, why are we putting up with the continuing abuse of “New England’s River”?

Perhaps we need to join the growing movement called the “Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN)” that’s taking hold in countries around the world and in various communities here in the U.S., a movement that recognizes that our ecosystem—including animals, forests, oceans, rivers, mountains, etc. —have god-given rights just as human beings have god-given rights. Both Ecuador and Bolivia, at the initiative of their indigenous populations, have recently amended their constitutions to include the “Rights of Nature,” thus guaranteeing legal protections for rain forests and other natural features under assault from corporate exploitation.

Similar efforts are underway in other parts of the globe, and in a growing number of communities here in the U.S. The “Rights of Nature” concept doesn’t deny the rights of humans; it’s about balancing what is good for human beings with what is good for other species, and what is good for the earth as a whole. It’s based on the holistic recognition that all life forms on our planet, human and non-human, are deeply intertwined and dependent on each other —a recognition the lack (or denial) of which has clearly given rise to the escalating global climate crisis bearing down on us today with increasingly destructive force.

According to the “Rights of Nature” website (www.theRightsOfNature.org): “Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights of Nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we —the people —have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the injured party, with its own ‘legal standing’ rights, in cases alleging rights violations. “By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador—and a growing number of communities in the United States —are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do.

This premise is a radical but natural departure from the assumption that nature is ‘property ’ under the law.”
For indigenous cultures around the world, recognizing the rights of nature is simply recognizing reality, a reality consistent with their traditions of living in harmony with nature. All life, including human life, is deeply connected. Decisions and values are based on what is good for the whole.
Nonetheless, for millennia legal systems around the world have treated land and nature as “property. ” Laws and contracts are written to protect the property rights of individuals, corporations and other legal entities. As such environmental protection laws actually legalize environmental harm by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur within the law. Under such law, nature and all of its non-human elements have no standing.”

Passing far-reaching new laws, let alone amending constitutions at the state or federal levels, is bound to be a time-consuming effort. But there’s no reason why in the meantime we can’t start practicing the “Rights of Nature” as a “community ethic” right now —focusing first and foremost on the right of “New England’s River” to be respected and protected. Our planet Earth is rightfully regarded as our “mother ” —“Mother Earth.” By the same token, the Connecticut River should rightfully be regarded as New England’s “Mother River”—and thus honored and protected. Thank you, Karl Meyer, for repeatedly sounding the alarm and awakening us to this reality.

Randy Kehler and his wife Betsy Corner, after 40-plus years in Colrain, have recently moved to Shelburne Falls.

THE SELLING OF NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER

NOTE: Part of the failing riverbank leakage of the grim pollution entering the shortnose sturgeon spawning pool at Rock Dam and the Connecticut at the FirstLight site on January 10, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

THE SELLING OF NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER from The Greenfield Recorder 12/12/2020

By KARL MEYER

On Nov. 12 FirstLight and broker Energy New England sent out a paid press release with a Twitter link on Businesswire: “21 New England Municipal Electric Utilities Commit to Historic Purchase of Clean Power From First-Light Through ENE.” Formatted like news, it hyped agreements —overwhelmingly to eastern Massachusetts towns, for future electricity exports. It boasted big complex numbers, long-term megawatts and clean, renewable hydropower sales to towns 100 miles from the source. Factually, if all that hyped power was directed to the coastal town of Hingham (pop. circa 23,000) on that list, all 20 others, including tiny outliers in Vermont and Rhode Island, would be left in the dark.

FirstLight never mentioned it hadn’t secured a long-term license for diverting flows from the public’s Connecticut River to produce future electricity. That remains many months in the future. On Nov. 12 it hadn’t even submitted a final application to the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission (FERC) requesting the privilege. The AP picked up that release, though it flagged it as paid content. It spiraled all over the web looking like reporting. What further blurred the perception line between the public press and private interests was state Rep. Tom Golden, chair of the Commonwealth’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. He’s quoted in that paid release touting FirstLight’s export deal as representing the “significant
expansion of their procurement of renewable and carbon-free electricity, produced right here in Massachusetts.” This was odd corporate coziness amidst a FERC relicensing. Was a fix in?

This Dec. 5, a headline under “Staff Report” ran in the Recorder: “Public power entities in three states commit to clean energy purchase from FirstLight.” As reporting, it appeared much like a recycling of that paid press release —but now with quotes from First-Light’s website. For federal and state agencies working within the FERC licensing process these last eight years on flows to restore a river massively exploited by Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain facilities for half a century that deal was a slap in the face. Over 18 months ago FirstLight exited settlement negotiations with those agencies over flows —yet here was FirstLight cutting eastern Massachusetts deals for over 40% of the generating capacity of their river-gorging diversions.

It echoed a grim 1970s plan to plunder more of the river’s aquatic life. The Metropolitan District Commission and NU-WMECO planned to use the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage project as a spigot to supplement over consumption of local water supplies and freshwater tables in eastern Massachusetts towns —even as their municipal systems were leaking like sieves.
Billions of gallons the Connecticut’s flow would be sucked into NMPS’s giant, fish-killing apparatus and piped east to the Quabbin Reservoir, then to metro Boston. But the Conservation Law Foundation’s Alexandra Dawson, Massachusetts Audubon’s Robie Hubley and conservationist Terry Blunt organized public meetings and spoke to reporters. They thwarted that scheme —in work that ultimately morphed into the MA Interbasin Transfer Act of 1983. It prevents exporting flows out of one river basin to service distant towns in another—until overuse, leaks and local supply measures are all implemented. It lets rivers live.

FirstLight is the latest exploiter of New England’s river here. Since2001 that’s included NU-WMECO, Northeast Generation Services, Energy Capital Partners, GDF-Suez, Engie, PSP Investments, and First-Light. Rep. Golden didn’t mention FirstLight is a Canadian-owned subsidiary of venture capital giant PSP Investments, who arrived four years ago to buy up the grimmest, ecosystem crippling machinery on the entire 410-mile river. Their investment scheme now twists 350 miles south before heading back to Canada. In December 2018 they pulled their facilities from commonwealth rolls and registered them as Delaware LLC tax shelters.

FirstLight’s deals occurred while the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife were all kept in the dark. Today they remain muzzled from accessing the media about relicensing specifics —due to confidentiality agreements First-Light demanded years back to allow participation in now long-stalled settlement talks. FirstLight’s facilities are key factors in spawning failure for the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. Its failing river banks, just 100 yards from the power canal, continue eroding into critical river habitat today.

FirstLight Vice President Thomas Kaslow testified in Washington to continue banning media access to the meetings of NEPOOL—the monopoly-dominated New England Power Producers association that steers ISO —New England. They’re no friend of a free press. New Englanders are due facts about how FirstLight’s diversions and massive fish-devouring pumped storage machine stunt and obliterate the life of a four-state ecosystem and how they’ll end that year-round carnage before any FERC licenses get issued.

Karl Meyer, a Greenfield resident, has served on the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process for river facilities here since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

ENDGAME LOOMS FOR NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER

Posted by on 10 Sep 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, Atlantic salmon, blueback herring, climate-destroying, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, FirstLight Power Resources, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, GHG, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, pumped storage, right-to-know, Rock Dam, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Revelator, The Society of Environmental Journalists, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

Endgame Looms for England’s Great River Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer


The impoverished Connecticut River looking downstream to Turners Falls Dam. The run stops here. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved. (CLICK x 3 to enlarge)

NOTE: The following piece first appeared as an Op-Ed in The Revelator, an initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity on August 26, 2020. www.therevelator.org

FURTHER NOTE: * On September 1, 2020, after this piece first appeared, FirstLight petitioned FERC for an open-ended date to extend the filing of their Final License Applications citing a need for new test data to respond to the USF&WS. If FERC agrees, that would add another 4 months and possibly another full year, to this endless process–without any long-awaited relief for a flow starved Connecticut River. It’s time for FERC to wrap this up.

After a half-century of failures, the recovery of the Connecticut River ecosystem hangs in the balance. Will authorities finally act to save it?

Rivers should not die in the dark.

On Aug. 31 FirstLight Power Resources is expected to file its final license applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to continue operating three hydro facilities profiting off massive water diversions from the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. The conditions written into FERC licenses can last up to 50 years.

These applications signal the beginning of the final chapter in determining the future of the four-state river at the heart of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, founded to protect a 7.2-million-acre watershed. Their rendering will decide the future of migratory fish, river flows and a host of embattled ecosystem conditions on New England’s longest river, some running counter to laws in place since 1872.

When decisions affecting a river for decades are being made, the public has a right to know of the stakes, the players and the key decision makers. In this case the public knows little of issues potentially affecting 2.4 million people in a sprawling watershed.

One of the failed fish ladders sending all spring migrants into the Turners Falls power canal maize. Across 45 years just 5 shad in 100 have succeeded in passing the Turners Falls Dam–leaving 50 miles of spawning habitat in 3 states largely empty. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife have been at the table in this FERC license-determining process since 2012. But three years back, all parties signed nondisclosure agreements with FirstLight — ostensibly to facilitate settlement discussions on flows, habitat, dismal fish passage and endless mortality cycles at these Massachusetts hydro sites. Those NDAs have kept these issues largely out of the media, even as initial settlement talks broke off a year and a half ago.

*Since 2012 I’ve been a FERC-recognized intervener in the relicensing process. I chose not to sign the company’s confidentiality agreement in order to preserve the right to address and highlight the critical, long-term decisions being made about the Connecticut River in a process that remains largely out of public view.

FirstLight is part of the giant Canadian investment outfit PSP Investments, which arrived in Massachusetts four years back to buy up these facilities from GDF Suez. In 2018 it quickly reregistered the facilities as limited liability tax shelters in Delaware. Regardless of their state of incorporation, the licenses they now vie for will each be subject to current federal and state environmental laws, under terms mandated by the fish agencies and FERC.

Entranceway to the “Great Falls Discovery Center” where, most days out of the year, there are literally no great falls running here at all… The sprawling rocky riverbed is an emptied bowl. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer.

Of more than 500 U.S. refuges, Conte is one of just three with “fish” in its name. Today hopes for the long-term protections of its fish and the river comprising its central artery rest heavily in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. They have “conditioning authority” in these relicensings — mandates to protect the life in this river system. FERC, the ultimate relicensing umpire here, is also mandated to ensure compliance with environmental laws. For the fish agencies this is their one chance to redeem some far-reaching mistakes made by their predecessors.

Forty-five years ago these agencies — operating on limited information and pursuing dreams of reprising a salmon not seen on this river since 1809 — signed agreements with different owners of these facilities. That hobbled, for generations, a four-state migratory fisheries restoration for American shad and river herring and a recovery for federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. They sanctioned the daily use of the massive river-reversing pumped storage facility still chewing through generations of migratory and resident fish today. Concurrently they left two miles of the river emptied downstream, its flow diverted into a turbine-lined power canal that all migrants must negotiate in order to access the next 50 miles of open spawning habitat. Just 5 shad in 100 have ever succeeded. Perhaps worse, the river’s only documented natural spawning habitat for the endangered shortnose sturgeon was left without life-sustaining flow.

A Tale of Two Salmon, a River Without Fish

The last wild salmon run on the Connecticut River was recorded in 1809.

Science later revealed the salmons’ end was likely a combination of warming temperatures following the unusually cold period known as the Little Ice Age coupled with modern dam building.

For 165 years there were no salmon. Then, in 1974, a single fish arrived at Holyoke Dam. Far from being a native of the Connecticut River, this was a new hybrid — a returning fish produced at one of several federal hatcheries completed five years prior. This salmon’s genes, like the genes of all the fish that would return in subsequent years, were cobbled together using salmon from several still-surviving runs in northern New England.

This past June 30 marked a different milestone on the river. It ended the first season in 46 years when not a single hatchery-derived Atlantic salmon returned past Massachusetts’ Holyoke Dam.

That unnatural history event passed with little fanfare. Its silent-spring absence marked the end of a half-century-old program that consumed hundreds of millions of dollars and ate up far too much room in a badly broken ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its hatchery program at the end of the 2012 migration season, but across its 43 years — which saw the annual release of millions of fry and smolts to tributaries in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire — so few adults returned that no one was ever allowed to catch one.

This second salmon ending highlights the fish agencies’ last shot at returning ancient ocean connections to the river’s still-viable, age-old runs of American shad, blueback herring and federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in three states.

All these species have been guaranteed safe passage on U.S. rivers, going back to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Holyoke Company v. Lyman in 1872. That finding centered on the dam in Holyoke, Massachusetts and held that private dam owners operating on U.S. rivers must provide for the free movement, upstream and down, of migratory fish past their facilities.

Looking west across the CT to the Holyoke Dam fish lift complex. Since 1955 it is one of the East Coast’s few fish passage successes. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

Its implementation on New England’s river is now 148 years overdue.

A River Run in Reverse

What’s ultimately at issue here is flow.

Having taken a back seat for generations, wild runs of shad, herring and sturgeon remain in desperate need of passage and consistent, exponentially increased river flow in FirstLight’s hydro-complex dominated reach. It’s literally the weight of water that matters most to FirstLight. It’s money in the bank. And where flow diversion is concerned, it’s been pretty much a free ride for companies here for the past 50 years.

The 20 miles of river backed up into Vermont and New Hampshire behind Turners Falls Dam are massively suctioned for hours at up to 15,000 cubic feet per second to fill the 4-billion-gallon reservoir above the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

Northfield’s suction is so violent it literally reverses the Connecticut’s current for up to a mile downstream at times, erasing the essence of a living river system. The station kills everything it sucks in, from tiny fish eggs to full-size eels. In pumping mode it suctions the equivalent of 3,600 seven-bedroom mansions, each filled with the aquatic life of a river, vaporized every hour, for hours on end. Agency studies on America shad show tens of millions of eggs and larvae extinguished at Northfield annually, plus the deaths of over 2 million juvenile shad sucked in on migrations back to the sea. Five migrant species are subjected to Northfield. In all 24 species live here, most unstudied.

Warning floats on the CT at the entranceway to Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station’s massive subsurface suctioning site. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

Northfield’s operations are nothing like classic hydro, operating to produce virgin electricity via a dam in or adjacent to a river. It’s actually an electric appliance, built to take advantage of excess, unused megawatts produced nightly at the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear station. Northfield burns electricity to pump water from the river a mile uphill to into its reservoir tank, which was created by blasting off the top of a mountain. The company’s original owners would buy up Vermont Yankee’s cheap electricity to power its giant, reversible turbines. Later, during peak energy times, that now-lifeless river water would get sent back through the turbines to generate hours-long pulses of energy at peak market prices.

It’s a buy-low, sell-high operation, still running at the expense of a river system six years after Vermont Yankee shut down.

Idle bulldozers sit in the emptied bed of the giant NMPS reservoir on June 27, 2010–the year they broke their giant appliance by fouling the pumps with muck and silt. Sanctioned by the EPA for a cover-up and massively dumping the muck from their mile-long intake tunnel directly into the river, Northfield didn’t operate for over half a year. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved. (Click x3 to enlarge.)

Northfield is a net-loss energy machine — a giant underground appliance consuming massive amounts of grid electricity, half of it now generated by the climate-scorching natural gas that dominates New England’s power grid today. The station consumes 25% to 33% more juice than the secondhand megawatts it sends back by dumping deadened river water back through its turbines. It and a smaller pumped storage station in Connecticut are responsible for gobbling up 1.4% percent of the region’s energy in order to reproduce the few hours of secondhand juice they regenerate. According to grid operator ISO-New England, they are the only facilities whose operations flush out as negative input in the regional power mix.

Northfield has never generated a single watt of its own electricity. And though it may be fine as blunt instrument for use during the occasional power grid slump or rare emergency blackout, its endless, river-crippling, pump-and-purge cycle of regenerated megawatts is unnecessary for the daily operation of the New England grid. While its owners brag of being able to power a million homes for a few hours, they never mention having already burned through the energy of 1.25 million homes to do so. After its daily flush, Northfield is virtually dead in the water and must begin pulling from the grid and sucking life from the river all over.

Past mistakes not only allowed for this massive upstream disruption, they sanctioned diversion of nearly all flow, as well as all migrating fish, into a downstream power canal that on average just 5% of shad have ever successfully negotiated. That left another two miles of New England’s river dysfunctional, with the company providing just a dribble flow of 400 cubic feet per second in the riverbed in spring, when fish are moving upriver. That riverbed remains emptied of all flow more than half the other days of the year.

The most critical time for sustaining flows and the river’s migrants is April through June, when New England’s energy consumption is at its low annual ebb. But federal and state studies and in-river findings show that spring flows will need to be increased by a factor of 20, supplying 8,000 cfs rather than the current brook-like drizzle of 400 cfs. That’s what it will take to guide shad and blueback herring upstream in the river past Turners Falls Dam. That will also provide this river’s only endangered migrant the consistent flows required to successfully allow the shortnose sturgeon to spawn and ensure its larvae can develop in the cobbles at an ancient river pool in that impoverished reach.

Flow starved Connecticut River at the Rock Dam–critical shortnose sturgeon spawning and rearing site, May 13, 2018. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

Back in 1967, when four New England states and these agencies signed the “Statement of Intent for the Cooperative Fishery Restoration Program for the Connecticut River Basin,” they projected some 38,000 salmon would return annually to this four-state ecosystem. For salmon, a pinnacle of sorts was reached in 1981, when 592 were tallied passing Holyoke. But for a hybrid fish whose wild prototype disappeared 160 years prior, it was downhill from there. Most years fewer than 100 salmon returned to the river.

That 1967 agreement also set annual run targets of one million American shad heading upstream, with 850,000 shad passing Turners Falls and 750,000 entering Vermont and New Hampshire habitats above Vernon Dam. The highest shad return saw 720,000 passing Holyoke in 1992. Sadly, they’ve never made it much farther.

The Run Stops in Massachusetts.

Just 36 miles upstream of Holyoke, all semblance of a successful restoration ends when the annual shad run reaches Turners Falls Dam. Of the 537,000 shad that passed Holyoke in 2017, just 48,000 — a mere 9% — squeezed back into the river beyond Turners Falls.

Vernon Dam between Vernon VT and Hinsdale NH, March 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

The annual inversion at the next upstream dam in Vermont illustrates the perils on this broken river. In 2017 29,000 or 59% of the shad that survived the miseries of Turners Falls were subsequently counted passing Vernon Dam, 20 miles upriver. That inverted interstate ratio has been the case since 1975, with few shad managing to break out beyond the brutal ecosystem conditions in Massachusetts.

Why the Restoration Failed

The current restoration, congressionally authorized in 1967 and still operating today under the moniker of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, made their biggest blunder in 1975 when they signed off on new license requirements for upstream fish passage. They ultimately chose a design based on hydro project fish ladders on Washington State’s giant Columbia River, known for huge Pacific salmon runs. What got built was a three-ladder fish passage that forced all migrants out of their ancient river highway and into the byzantine maze of the company’s power canal, while leaving two miles of riverbed all but emptied of flow.

Scaled down and put in place at Turners Falls, it worked fine for the program’s few successfully returning hybrid salmon but failed immediately for 95% of the hundreds of thousands of migrating shad. No big run has ever passed that site, leaving three states without their promised bounties. Vermont and New Hampshire remain this river’s shad deserts today.

The Prescription

It’s now 2020. At this late date, corporate re-registrations can’t hide what’s legally required and a half-century overdue on New England’s river. The last opportunity to undo those festering mistakes for the Connecticut now rest in the hands of the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife. They are the people’s gatekeepers, mandated to guard the public trust — agencies with the authority to change to the generations-old crippling conditions here in Massachusetts.

Across 45 years of tracking fish runs passing upstream at successive dams on the Connecticut, shad counts have averaged 315,369 at Holyoke, 17,579 at Turners Falls, and just 9,299 at the Vernon Dam in Vermont. But recently long-term federal and state studies on passage and juvenile survival for American shad have led to new minimum benchmarks for fish passage at each dam to ensure the long-term survival of the river’s runs.

Using those findings, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the four states have formally adopted new Connecticut River fish passage goals. They include annual minimums of 687,000 shad passing Holyoke, 297,000 passing Turners Falls, and 227,000 at Vernon Dam annually. Those federal and state targets are now part of the public record in the current FERC relicensings. Their implementation would also ensure the endangered shortnose sturgeon gets the flows needed to begin its recovery here.

It’s time to return flow to the Connecticut River below Turners Falls. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

The time has come for facilities operating and profiting off the life of New England’s river to come into compliance with the laws of the land, including the Supreme Court’s 1872 finding in Holyoke Company v. Lyman, the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act of 1965, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and a host of others. For the fisheries agencies charged with protecting a river’s bounty, standing up for their implementation is the sole prescription for success in a four-state restoration undertaken when back Lyndon Johnson was president.

By law, by right and by the public trust, the Connecticut River’s time has come.

Karl Meyer has been a member of the Fish & Aquatics Studies Team and an intervener in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process for three Massachusetts facilities on the Connecticut River since 2012. He lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Meyer is a member of The Society of Environmental Journalists.

* * FINAL NOTE from the author: if all this history is new and troubling to you it must be considered that: this is the only river in the Northeast with several federal designations that has remained the only major waterway without an independent and effective watchdog–one with a full legal team on staff, and a mandate to investigate, enforce, and go to court. The generations-long mistakes and brutal conditions that have existed here would’ve long ago been challenged in court had there been an effective organization protecting the integrity of this river system. If the Connecticut River is to have a future as a living ecosystem, a new model will have to come into being.

A RIVER in HEATSTROKE: A Photo Portrait on July’s Hottest Day

Posted by on 21 Jul 2020 | Tagged as: Clean Water Act, climate-destroying, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, FirstLight, Great Falls, Peskeomscutt Island, Rock Dam, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vermont

A RIVER in HEATSTROKE: A Photo Portrait on July’s Hottest Day
Story and pictures Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The above photo of the “Great Falls” at Turners Falls was taken at approximately 6:45 am, on July 19, 2020, the hottest day on a boiling-out planet this year. The riverbed below was simply left to bake in this reach until just after 4 pm. (CLICK x 3 to enlarge; BACK ARROW to return)
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

I continued downstream on this, the most critical and imperiled reach in the entire Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, through the two desperate miles of abused river channal, all the way to the Rock Dam, critical spawning site for the federally endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon.

Locked-down river, starved in front of the “tainter gates” on the Gill side of the river. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The stilled-water graveyard, just downstream of the TF Dam on the Gill side of the Connecticut. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Starving, de-oxygenated river on the Turner Falls side, looking downstream, with Peskeomscutt Island–now, no longer an island, de-watered and attached by tilted shales to the land. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The entire flow of the Connecticut (save for a dribble of 125 cubic feet per second mandated to enter from a chute 100 feet downstream of the dam to keep shortnose sturgeon from stranding and dying in the baking pools) is shunted into the muck and sludge accumulating Turners Falls power canal. Pictured here, the canal downstream adjacent to Cabot Woods, back in 2009, the last time it was mucked out by the heavy machinery pictured. (Click x3)
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Here is the same area, pictured above, with the shunted Connecticut flow moving listlessly by the sludge-catching silt banks on the morning of July 19, 2020. This is the canal and just part of the grim habitats that ALL migratory fish must must face before emerging upstream of Turners Falls Dam. USGS Conte Fish Lab is visible in the background. Few fish ever manage to survive the puzzled and emerge to spawn in wide open upstream habitats stretching beyond Bellows Falls VT. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Another look from a similar vantage with the Fish Lab in the background and a grim canal substituted for a living river. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


View from the opposite side–from the rail trail, July 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


And, lastly, just some of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup-looking sludge bleeding down FirstLight’s failing riverbanks at Cabot Woods–adjacent to their sludge-choked canal, and into the endangered shortnose sturgeon’s Rock Dam spawning site and nursery for developing young on July 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


A closer look, 07/19/2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


And another, 07/19/2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


And, just yards away, the slurry connection–where the grim soup enters the most critically endangered site in the entire river ecosystem: the Rock Dam, on July 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

That riverbank soup was already assaulting Rock Dam habitats back in September 2019. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Ten months has passed since this photo was taken. The banks continue to fail, the site continues to be assaulted through pollution, and outright neglect and flaunting a ESA protections.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Honoring Peskeomscut

Posted by on 18 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Deerfield River, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, fish passage, Holyoke Dam, Narragansett, Nipmuck, Norwottuck, Peskeomscut, Pocumtuck, Relicensing, Riverside, sea lamprey, shad, The Dead Reach, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls Massacre, Uncategorized

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER IV

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 4: Honoring Peskeomscut


Peskeomscut, Island?
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer(Click X 3 to enlarge; back arrow to return to text)

At a glance, this could be a photo of a quiet pond in New England. It is not. This is the mid-May, midstream view of an island in the Connecticut River, just 250 yards below the Turners Falls Dam in Massachusetts. With a quick look you might be wondering: where’s the river—and, what island?? This is a chasm and landscape robbed of its water, life and dignity. On any mid-spring day for ages past, thousands of American shad would’ve been pulsing through the rolling froth on both sides of what is a now-erased and bereft island. Today, shad here are not even offered a decent puddle to flop in.

Glancing quickly, you might not have made note of an island. But a closer look reveals a small, tree festooned bump in the center-right background. That site was identified by FirstLight Power as PesKeomscut Island in their initial 2012 application for a new federal hydro license to operate Turners Fall Dam—which is just out of view to the right of this photo. Unfortunately, Turners Falls Dam has been the place where New England’s Great River has died for well over two centuries now.

As far as any real river here?—there’s a just-visible bridge in the upper right, beneath which the mouth of the Fall River is adding a little flow and a tiny bit of froth to the barely-running current in the background. What should be the strong, rolling pulse of the spring Connecticut here should to be pushing downstream from left to right across the entire foreground of this photo. Instead, there’s just a stilled pond. And, yes, that island has been virtually erased. To be an island, you must have water.

On this May 14, 2020, FirstLight has subtracted that main ingredient. At mid-afternoon the Connecticut has been turned off in its own 200 million year-old chasm, robbed of all but a riverlet of dribbling flow. They do that most months out of the year. This spring day all but a tiny percentage of its life-giving current is diverted into FL’s adjacent power canal. The Connecticut is broken here at a place once called Peskeomscut–broken since the first dam stretched across this ancient chasm from Turners Falls to Gill in 1798. That began the 2-1/2 mile reach just downstream that robbed the river of life and flow. It gave rise to a landlocked “island” without a watery moat.

Further out and to the left in the photo, two more humans engage in a leisurely stroll over exposed sand—mid-river at mid-spring, padding over a dry shoal that should be teeming with river life at this season. But not here; not in northern Massachusetts. The place is a desert.

Instead of a life-giving, roaring spring cataract–encircling an inaccessible island, just a salutary wash of water is spilling from the dam above. Peskeomscut Island has been reduced to an abandoned, rocky spit in a parching, emptied chasm.

Looking closely, lower left of center you can make out an angler at the quiet, current-less shore. He might as well be on a pond—migrating American shad won’t find an upstream current deep or strong enough to follow their ancient migratory path toward the lost waterfalls here this day. While downstream, Holyoke Dam had reported 10,000 shad passing there through May 8, Turners Falls Dam had a whopping 38 passing here…

Peskeomscut is an approximate spelling of an Algonquian term used to denote the place where an ancient waterfall, cataract and island anchored the landscape. That place, which teemed with life throughout its annual seasonal cycles back into the mists of time, is today robbed of its soul–deprived of dignity. What, in 2020, should be a restored, thriving, May Connecticut River–full of shad, herring, lamprey eels and frothing currents, is today a drying, emptied bed. Its “island” is simply a rocky spit, easily accessible across the barren, bedrock ledge.


Midstream Peskeomscut 1-1-2018 (Click X 3 to enlarge)
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

There is more than a little irony to this site being referenced today in Massachusetts as Turners Falls or the Great Falls. Any visitor here would more than likely find this curving, ancient chasm hollowed out at nearly any month of the year. There rarely are falls to see here. This is a broken place, a starved place. There is something raw and enduring about the injuries perpetrated here year in and year out. The once abundant life of this place is merely an afterthought here, if considered at all.

From Turners Falls Dam downstream to just above the river’s confluence with the Deerfield River, these 2-1/2 miles of the Connecticut are best described as its “Dead Reach.” There is no river in this stretch, just a parching/choking series of on-off flows that alternately starve and inundate what was once a life-filled artery.

In the spring of 2020, this should not be. It should all be the past history of the Great River. The current 52 year-old Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate Turners Falls Dam expired in 2018. But FERC has allowed repeated extensions of that license, in a so-called “5-year” relicensing process that began in 2012. This stilted, corporate-skewed federal process has seen virtually no forward movement for over a year–and will soon be celebrating its 8th birthday. That stale status quo seems to suit FERC and FirstLight–as well as their shareholders, quite nicely. It’s just another abuse in the ongoing nightmare for the central artery of Western New England’s largest ecosystem.

On May 19, 2004, I witnessed a reconciliation ceremony at a park in Montague adjacent to the Connecticut, just above Turners Falls Dam. Local officials, citizens, and representatives from several of the region’s Native American tribes were present. All were there to honor, and attempt to heal the lingering injuries and moldering legacy of a grim injustice committed here in the pre-dawn dark on the morning of May 19, 1676.


Turners Falls Dam and Riverside Massacre Site
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer(Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrow to return to text)

Just across the river in the Riverside flats of Gill, 160 colonial troops swept down a hillside, firing muskets and stabbing bayonets into the tents of sleeping elders, women, and children of the Narragansett, Nipmuck and Pocumtuck and other peoples—encamped there in a hungry and desperate attempt to harvest fish and plant sustaining corn in their ongoing attempt to defend and keep the territories of their ancient homelands. For the colonists, it was a grim and successful slaughter of hundreds of defenseless Indians. For the indigenous tribes, though their surprise counter attack quickly sent the blood-bathed attackers into a chaotic, F-Troop rout, the loss of life ultimately proved a spirit and soul crushing disaster.

On this May 19th, 2020, much of the signaled healing and reconciliation of 16 years back seems to remain orphaned on the 344th anniversary of the Turners Falls Massacre. The wounds of that day are yet present. And, the later and ongoing theft of a river’s life-giving current–begun with that 1798 dam, still remains in place. The Connecticut here is–most days, an emptied and soulless place. It is long past time for the life and lives lost at Peskeomscut–and some of what is still missing as well, to see the beginning of a long overdue restoration. The river belongs to the people. Some of that healing must begin with water. Water is where life begins…

Issue # 3: The River Emptied at Spring

Posted by on 13 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Bellows Falls VT, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, Greenfield Recorder, Holyoke Dam, Holyoke Fish Lift, migratory fish, Narragansett, Nipmuck, Northfield Mountain, Norwottuck, Pocumtuck, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Turner Falls Massacre, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont, Walpole

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER III

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 3: The River Emptied at Spring

Dismal Mother’s Day flow at Turner’s Falls Dam and Fishway Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer (Click X 3 for closeup, click back arrow to return to text)

It was a grim Mother’s Day weekend for the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. The only current left in the riverbed below Turners Falls Dam amounted to little more than a thin, spreading soup winding a shallow path around successive ridges of drying ledge as it threaded together a downstream path along it’s ancient, impoverished bed. Anyone with a pair of rubber boots could’ve easily walked across the Connecticut just a few hundred feet below that dam without much risk of getting wet to the knees–smack in the middle of fish migration and spawning season in the heart of the Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

There’s something soulless in starving a river of its flow—particularly in the spring when the shadbush is in bloom, the columbine have sprouted, and the fish are in the river. This year, with the corona virus draining spirits and sapping energy during March and April, the presence of a living river in Western New England’s back yard was something to anticipate come May. The light returned, the trees were in flower, birds were making music, and energy use was in its usual seasonal retreat—demand being down ever since a warmer than normal winter.


Days Earlier Flow over Turners Falls Dam May 5, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer (Click X 3, back arrow to return to text)

This should have been a promising early May on New England’s Great River. But no–not here in northern Massachusetts–not this Mother’s Day weekend. For migrating American shad seeking a route upstream here, the river was literally a road to nowhere. As of Monday, May 11th, though some 18,000 shad had passed upstream at the Holyoke Fishway, 36 river miles to the south, not a single shad had been tallied managing to pass beyond the grim maze of a power canal and several ladders to emerge above Turners Falls Dam. By Monday not a single migrant from the ocean had been tallied passing that dam–thus none were present moving upstream to open Vermont, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts habitats. The public has no access to the fishway this year, and FirstLight has not provided a simple video feed for people to see their fish. At Turners Falls, the power company alone, is left to monitor itself and report on the public’s fish.


Shad Anglers below Holyoke Dam May 7, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

But, most grimly again this May, river conditions on Mother’s Day were altogether devastating for federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon attempting to spawn and nurture young in the currents at their ancient Rock Dam spawning pool–a mile and a half downstream of the dam. Vital river flows at a natural basalt, in-stream formation known as Rock Dam–which had been accommodating for spawning sturgeon just a week before, were shut down to the point where the cobble shoals that shelter eggs and developing young were now visible along a receded shoreline.

Hopeful shad anglers from the adjacent USGS Conte Lab and nearby US Fish & Wildlife Service in Sunderland were present to witness the impacts. This year’s potential progeny–at the sturgeon’s only documented natural spawning site in the ecosystem, were once more left to desiccate–starved of life-giving, oxygenating water as the sun warmed the prematurely exposed, rocky shallows. Though not fishing on this Mother’s Day morning, one of the leaders of the local Nolumbeka Project stopped to inquired of me if the sturgeon had been able to successfully spawn this year. I had to tell him no.

For the second year running FirstLight Power had squeezed the bascule gates closed at Turners Fall Dam, leaving just a curtain of a few hundred cubic feet per second (cfs) of flow entering the starved riverbed below Turners Falls Dam. The Federal Energy Regulatory license for FL’s Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain operations expired two years back on April 30, 2018. . Conditions in a new license would have hopefully increased that dribbling flow at the dam by a factor of 20. Grimly, the starving of this Great River is occurring at the exact site where women, children and elders of the Nipmuck, Pocumtuck, Norwottuck and Narragensett People were set upon and slaughtered in their pre-dawn sleep in the Turners Falls Massacre on May 19, 1676.

But FERC stepped in on FirstLight’s behalf, and has now offered two years of license extensions to this Canadian-owned, Delaware-registered company, allowing these grim impacts to continue. In doing so it has now green-lighted these conditions for three consecutive spawning seasons–allowing crippling industrial practices put in place 52 years back to choke the life out of four-state migratory fish runs, and crushing the spawning prospects for those sturgeon–literally the Connecticut’s only federally endangered migratory fish species. This, in an ecosystem that should have had connected and sustaining flows and fish passage upstream to Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH long ago.

The flows present in the river on Mother’s Day are flows that force endangered sturgeon to default downstream to attempt spawning in the pulsing industrial flows churning out of the Cabot Station powerhouse a half mile downstream. There, any spawned and developing young-of-the-year will have no defense against the scouring-out hydro surges pulsing canal water back into the riverbed below once fertilized young are dispersed in the flows to shelter in rocky shallows .

Those tamped-down Mother’s Day flows from the dam also create conditions that keep American shad in an endless Groundhog Day cycling at Rock Dam–circling and re-circling in the depleted currents at a pool where depths become too shallow to find a flow offering a negotiable upstream path. Anglers sometimes do quite well at this migratory cull-de-sac where agitated, circling shad snap at darts while wasting hours and energy in this suspended-migration.

But those same tamped down flows diverted at TF Dam also cause just-arriving American shad from Holyoke to be led directly to the false upstream currents exiting the power canal at Cabot Station. Sensing that upstream attraction flow, those unlucky fish get drawn into a ponderous and exhausting fish ladder there. There they are diverted entirely out of the riverbed and into a concrete chute where they must attempt to better an impossible series of steps, twists, and turns that will ultimately dump them into the alien and un-river-like environs of the Turners Falls power canal. Once they enter that industrial habitat, many end their upstream migrations altogether, spending weeks in the labyrinth of that walled corridor without finding a way out and upstream.

Grimly, this year was nearly a carbon copy of the brutal conditions visited below Turners Falls the week of Mother’s Day 2019. Last year at this time researchers tallied the largest-ever catch of spawning-run endangered sturgeon gathered at their Rock Dam nursery pool, corralling 48 fish in a morning survey of a biologist’s net. Days later, at the height of shortnose spawning season, FirstLight abruptly cut off life giving flows to the site. Those same banks and cobbles were exposed, and the spawning run sturgeon were sent packing—forced to abandon the site, with any embryos and young that might have proved viable left withering in the shallows.


FL’s Locked Entrance at Cabot Woods & Rock Dam mid-afternoon May 5, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

You might have expected more from FirstLight this year. This is a Canadian shareholder company seeking a new federal license to operate these facilities on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts after recently re-registering them in Delaware as tax shelters. But, now that FERC continues to allow them to profit off the grim and antiquated tenets of a license written under the Federal Power Commission 52 years ago, they seem in no particular hurry to become relicensed neighbors operating for profit on a four-state US river that is the centerpiece of a National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

These ongoing grim flow regimes fly in the face of mandates long-ago included in the Endangered Species Act and the Anadramous Fish Conservation Act, here, in the most biologically important and critical habitat in the entire Connecticut River ecosystem. They also feel like a thumbing of the nose at Massachusetts taxpayers—as well as all the deserving citizens in the three states from Montague MA to Walpole NH, who also pay taxes and are certainly entitled to a living river. It is a form of public theft.

As the Connecticut River is left starved, its ancient fish runs foundering, there is no movement to bring to a close the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “5-year” relicensing process—begun here in 2012 and lingering on, laughably unfinished. The power company continues to pocket profits, while the FERC is led by a stilted and hand-picked majority happy to feed the corporations what they want, to the benefit of foreign shareholders far from New England. Sadly, there is no state or federal environmental agency that appears willing to challenge this endless delay. And, as noted here before—this four-state river lacks a true NGO watchdog with a mission-mandate and staff lawyers protecting it. See The Greenfield Recorder: https://www.recorder.com/New-England-s-great-river-without-a-watchdog-33291778

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