Dead Reach

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Stakeholder PROTEST of FERC Revised Study Plan finding endangering Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon

Posted by on 07 Mar 2016 | Tagged as: Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Dead Reach, Dr. Boyd Kynard, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Extinction, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, GDF-Suez FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Rock Dam, Secretary Kimberly Bose, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

(The following Stakeholder testimony was submitted to FERC on March 4, 2016)

Karl Meyer, M.S.
85 School Street # 3
Greenfield, MA, 01301
413-773-0006 March 4, 2016

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

RE: P-1889 and P-2485, and federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, (Acipenser brevirostrum)

PROTEST of FERC-sanctioned Revised Plan for Study 3.3.19, issued to FirstLight Power Resources, Inc, in a February 25, 2016 FERC letter to Mr. James P. Donohue of FirstLight, by Vince E. Yearick, FERC Director, Division of Hydropower Relicensing.

Dear Secretary Bose,

I protest the FERC finding issued on February 25, 2016 for P-2485 and P-1889 specifically because it sanctions test flows that are documented to cause spawning failure for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) at its only documented natural spawning site, the Rock Dam, in the Connecticut River. FirstLight has proposed and FERC has accepted Study Plan test flows of 1500 cubic feet per second in the CT River’s By Pass Reach for April, May and June 2016. That low level of flow will displace and wipe out a full season’s spawning and rearing of Young of Year life stage SNS at their ancient Rock Dam nursery site.

Though my FERC Stakeholder comments of January 28, 2016 specifically addressed this ESA issue, FirstLight did not respond to the endangerment issue in its RSP revisions. Further, I had made this issue clear to FirstLight and its agents, FERC staff, and key stakeholder agencies in an email delivered on January 20, 2016. I again reiterated the endangered species impacts to those same parties in an email delivered on February 24, 2016. Madam Secretary, I again made my concerns about spawning interference and failure to you and for the FERC record in a letter delivered February 26, 2016. All are available for perusal in the FERC record for P-2485 and P-1889.

Shortnose sturgeon gather at this spawning and nursery site annually between April 22 and May 25 for pre-spawning and spawning. Further, the complex of key biological characteristics of flow, varying depths, and cobble/sand habitat provide SNS with protective options that nurture developing Young of the Year throughout June into July.

According to 17 years of published studies at that site documented by Dr. Boyd Kynard and research colleagues, a continuous minimum flow of 2500 cfs is required to protect sturgeon spawning and rearing at this site. Therefore, I PROTEST the findings of the FERC Revised Study Plan determination issued by FERC on February 25, 2016, and request that only continuous protective minimum flows of 2500 cfs be allowed in this study, and throughout the 2016 SNS spawning and rearing season, as well as all ensuing springs.

The following publication has been referenced in the FERC ILP for these projects by both federal and state stakeholder agencies, FERC, as well as FirstLight and their agents.

“LIFE HISTORY AND BEHAVIOUR OF CONNECTICUT RIVER SHORTNOSE AND OTHER STURGEONS, 2012, by Boyd Kynard, Paolo Bronzi et al, World Sturgeon Conservation Society: Special Publication # 4

“Effect of hydroelectric operations on spawning”

Page 101, bottom: “During the 11 yr spawning failed (excluding the failed migration in 2002), when discharge levels were too low for 5 yr and too high for 4 yr. During one yr (2007), discharge during April was both to low and too high. When spawning failed at RockD due to low discharge during 4 yr (1995, 1998, 1999, and 2006)m discharge decreased to <70 m3 s-1 for at least 4 d by 30 April (Fig. 14), the earlier period of low discharge likely marked a threshold making the RockD unattractive to spawning fish.”

Further published data, tables, and required flows necessary in this reach appear on pages 101-102 of LIFE HISTORY AND BEHAVIOUR OF CONNECTICUT RIVER SHORTNOSE AND OTHER STURGEIONS.

I would welcome a FERC hearing on this critical ESA issue and would make myself available for testimony. Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,
Karl Meyer
Fish and Aquatics Study Team, P-2485 and P-1889

Cc’d via email to:
Brandon Cherry, FERC
James Donohue, FirstLight
Julie Crocker, NOAA
John Warner, USFWS
Caleb Slater, MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife

The Great Eddy at Bellows Falls

Posted by on 27 May 2015 | Tagged as: American shad, Bellows Falls, Bellows Falls Fishway, Cabot Station, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Dead Reach, GDF-Suez FirstLight, migratory delay, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, power canal studies, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad, shad fishing, Station 1, The Great Eddy, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Walpole

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May, 27, 2015. I happened to be at Bellows Falls High School yesterday, and I took a walk into town and over to the Connecticut River at the now-closed Vilas Bridge. Just downstream of here and pictured above is a place formerly known as the Great Eddy. Here, prior to the completion of the Turners Falls Dam in 1798–the first dam to span the entire Connecticut, historic accounts recall 1,200 shad being pulled from the river at a single haul of the net. This picture was taken a few years ago, my batteries proved exhausted as I stood looking downstream yesterday.

There were two young guys far below, fishing in the shadow of the bridge, just downstream of the Bellows Falls Dam. When I hollered down they said yes, the fishing was good, “A rainbow and some bass.” Thus, today, it is rare for a single shad to reach Bellows Falls, the upstream limit of their historic reach. It is harder still to imagine that this place was once a key part of an ecosystem connected to the OCEAN.

I got a note from John Howard, GDF-Suez FirstLight’s Director of Hydro Compliance on Monday. He assured me that those scores of American shad stalled by false attraction flows roaring down from Station 1 had been worked out and agreed to by the USFWS as part of a flexible test flow grid due to an absence of rain. He’d neglected to forward the new test flow schedule to the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team. I imagine those shad burning up their energies would’ve liked to have had a heads-up as well. Their destination–as is the professed destination of the Connecticut River anadromous fisheries restoration these last 48 years, has been to REACH Bellows Falls, VT, and Walpole, NH.

Head gate flow at the TF Dam today, Wednesday, was again lamb-gentle. Of all the years I’ve witnessed flows pouring out of those head gates in the midst of fish passage season, this is the quietest I’ve ever seen them. Canal head gate flow and power generation from the canal at Station 1 and Cabot Station will all need to be looked at carefully in these studies to tease out any biases. (Click to enlarge photo).P1000457

Meanwhile, there were still shad being taken at The Rock Dam Pool this afternoon. I was headed down the path about 3:30 pm and a guy was walking out with a pole and his two energetic labs. He cautioned the wet dogs to give me a wide birth and I asked how it had been. “Not bad,” he said, “Better this morning.” I took a second look at the gentlemen and said, “Hi Jake, how are you?” “Doing OK, how about you?” Jake was part of the maintenance and grounds crew up at Northfield Mountain under Northeast Utilities when I was working at the Visitor Center some dozen years back.

“You still writing letters?” he asked. “I’m doing what I can.” “Good,” Jake replied, “Give it to ’em. Good luck!” Funny, but I bump into many folks who used to work there and there seems to be little sympathy for the company–or lingering loyalty.

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When I get down to the Rock Dam Pool three people are angling. The guy here has a shad on the line. Another guy, just a bit upstream toward the dam hooks one two or three minutes later. I head out, continuing downstream by bike. (Click to enlarge)
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Looking upstream from the deck of the General Pierce Bridge in Montague City, much of the riverbed is exposed due to the low flows. At top, far right, is the outfall and attraction flow at Cabot Station, which is likely to be attracting and capturing a good slug of the migrating fish–steering them out of the river to the ladder that will dump them into the power canal. (Click to enlarge)

Bald eagles; canal shad and anglers up-close; fishy fishway windows

Posted by on 23 May 2015 | Tagged as: American shad, bald eagle, canal shad, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte, CRASC, Dead Reach, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, fishway windows, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, power canal studies, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad, shad fishing, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont

May 23, 2015. Turners Falls, MA. The test flows at Turners Falls Dam are now tamped down to 2,500 cubic feet per second. Thus anglers had given up fishing the riverbed below the dam yesterday(Friday) morning. However, the head gates beside the dam were open, releasing water at a good clip to course down the Turners Falls Power Canal. With little flow moving fish upstream in the actual river, it is commonly accepted knowledge that this forces fish to default to where they will find stronger upstream current to attract them. In this case that means a place 2-1/2 miles back downstream in the Dead Reach–the terminus of the canal at Cabot Station, where the power company dumps the river back into… the river. Thus, the canal becomes the impoverished, default habitat for migratory fish, attracted via privately- controlled flows that can be manipulated by dam operators. Thus, on Friday, just down from those head gates was the place where a few anglers gathered to fish the canal–just down the paved path to the low bridge behind the Great Falls Discovery Center.
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These gents were fishing shad that are part of the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission’s 1967 fisheries restoration mandate to move migratory fish upstream into New Hampshire and Vermont–to create a source of “seafood” for the public. These American shad, in Latin Alosa sapidissima–or “most delicious herring” were going to be eaten.
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With the main attraction flow coming from the downstream end of the power canal, it was primarily company flow through that conduit that was affecting upstream fish movements. Friday morning that flow was facilitating good numbers of fish in the viewing windows at Turners Falls Dam. The public’s fish and river should never be left in the private control of a corporation. That situation has resulted in the Black Hole of fish passage all these decades: the fish never reach Vermont and New Hampshire, and no one knows their fate after all upstream migrants are forced to enter the Turners Falls Power Canal.
A mile and a half downstream, there were two other potential anglers–perched in a cottonwood above the partially-flowing Connecticut’s riverbed. At just 2,500 cfs, they may have been licking their lips over fish that were confused or slowed and turning back in the river due to the withering upstream current. Slowed or stalled fish make for good eagle forage.
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Another half mile on down the river fishermen at The Rock Dam Pool were also happy to try and take advantage of a slowed or confused migration at this ancient site. Looking down from the rock ledge at the head of the pool, shad could be seen streaming through the water just 10 feet out. They moved by in tens and fives and dozens, but there was no way to discover whether they were milling through the edges of that frothy pool and simply returning to be seen again in an endless circling, or whether they were trying to shoot through one of the upstream notches in flows that were diminished by reductions at the dam.P1000433P1000432
Lastly, on “Migratory” Way, just down the canal past the USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, a crew of Conte fisheries people were inside FirstLight’s gates at the Cabot Hydro Station on the canal. USGS and the power company owners of the canal have been very close friends for decades now. Lab staff have worked for years on endless canal studies subsidized by Northeast Utilities, then NGS, and–of late, GDF-Suez FirstLight. Funny, though USGS holds the only National Marine Fisheries Service permit to study federally endangered shortnose sturgeon right here on the Connecticut, no study or tagging of sturgeon was done at all this year at their only documented natural spawning site–the Rock Dam Pool, just yards away from Conte Lab. And this, in a critical year of FEDERAL RE-LICENSING STUDIES.
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The folks in this picture are likely doing studies on migrating American eels. Power companies tend not to mind this type of work–as eels are difficult to study, they don’t spawn in the Connecticut River and thus are not an angler concern, and putting in “eelways”–which are wonderfully inexpensive, is a dirt cheap way to look “environmental” in the marketplace. Just as USGS Conte staff did endless canal studies with corporate study cash for decades on the TF Canal, they may be embarking on yet another cozy partnership, where years of data collection can be corporately subsidized, while true flows and fish passage upstream in the broken Connecticut River ecosystem through the Dead Reach here–and north past the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, gets ignored.
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The Turners Falls Power Canal’s emergency spillway chute and a portion of its failed fishway are pictured here, with a bit of Cabot Power Station in the background.

Spawning run ride from to Vernon; back to Turners Falls, Rock Dam and Cabot: May 17, 2015

Posted by on 17 May 2015 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, Bellows Falls, Cabot Station, Connecticut River, Conte, Dead Reach, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC license, FirstLight, Holyoke Fish Lift, New Hampshire, power canal studies, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, sea lamprey, shad, shad fishing, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

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The Headgates at Turners Falls Dam sending flow into the power canal were as quiet as I’ve ever seen them this Sunday. There seemed to just be a bit of attraction water for fish looking to get upstream, but no usual frothing rip that is usual with power generation.
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Downstream at the end of the power canal there was a nearly lake-like stillness as Cabot hydro station seemed to be producing little power.
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Looking upstream at Cabot hydro station from the bridge at Montague City, there was just a small run of whitewater coming down the spillway at Cabot. Data about these flow manipulations should be available for investigations and study results for the re-licensing
inquiries currently taking place under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission purview. They have significant impacts on fish passage.
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Three of the lucky anglers fishing Rock Dam today–two are in the boat in background.
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Rock Dam rocking with anglers and 6,300 cfs of flow.
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Letting a Rock Dam shad off the hook.

LASTLY, here’s today’s full POST:

Spawning run ride from to Vernon; back to Turners Fall, Rock Dam and Cabot: May 17, 2015

After cycling up Rt. 5 to Brattleboro early today, I headed south along the Connecticut. I was shocked to actually find the gates to Vernon Fishway OPEN! This is something that should be guaranteed to the public—regular, posted hours where the public can view their fish. Let John Rangonese of TransCanada know. There is always at least one pickup parked at the Vernon hydro station, all that’s needed is someone to walk over and open the gate; then close it upon leaving. Self-serve site, no cost involved. Public’s fish; public’s river.

Anyway, in the riot of effervescing current in the Vernon Fishway windows today were literally streams of American shad. They were running upstream like there was romance in the offing. Here, like at Holyoke, fish come directly upriver to the base of the dam. There, attracted by flows released down the short fish ladder at this modest falls, shad quickly find their way past the dam toward Brattleboro, Putney, Bellows Falls, and Walpole, NH. Today they were passing in pods at around 10:00 a.m. There were also a couple of smallmouths lower in the current, as well as one ropey sea lamprey flashing through the bubbles.
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USFWS tank truck used to transport tagged shad

Here, also, I ran into Steve Leach and his crew, from Normandeau Associates. Using the borrowed US Fish & Wildlife Service tank truck, they were preparing to tag fish and truck them a-ways upstream for fish passage studies connected to TransCanada’s hydro relicensing at Vernon, Bellows Falls, and Wilder. They’d done some previous tagging at Holyoke as well. We chatted a bit about test flows downstream, and the lack of rainfall, and the river’s temperature profile that is rising a bit early. I bid them luck, noting a few anglers fishing below Vernon Fishway—along with a perched bald eagle and a circling osprey.

After stopping to visit friends in Gill, MA, I was on the Turners Falls Bridge just a few minutes after noon. The test flow current is at 6,300 cfs (cubic feet per second) today, and the Connecticut is alive with frothy water across the wide, curving expanse formerly known as Peskeomscut. I look down at four people fishing the quick current along the Spillway Fish Ladder, just downstream of the bascule gate that’s pouring down current. In ten minutes time I watch five shad get hooked—four of them are landed, and one is lost near the waterline.

I get back on my bike and tuck in to the Canalside Rail Trail, scooting under the Turners Falls Bridge. As I come alongside the canal at the Turners Falls Gatehouse I notice that the canal is nearly quiet—almost like a still pond. This rivals the quietest flows I’ve ever seen passing through this site. FirstLight controls the headgates here–and with so few open, the fish coming up through their power canal can get a better shot at passage.

A cynical person might think they were manipulating the canal to make it look like a good industrial conduit for wild fish—especially during tagged-fish tracking surveys during test flows. One also might think this could be done to punch up fish passage numbers for weekend visitors to the TF Fishway—something that has shown up in fish passage tallies there for years. You’d think fish were only interested in migrating on weekends… Nonetheless, after well over a decade of subsidizing federal Conte Lab employees for fish passage studies and structural changes in the Turners Falls Power Canal, they have yet to succeed in passing more shad upstream than passed this site in the 1980s…

Curiously, when I head all the way downstream along the canal to Cabot Hydro Station, and then out on the deck of the General Pierce Bridge in Montague City—it is absolutely true that the TF Canal appears lake-like in its absence of flow, with just a small bit of whitewater bubbling down from its tailrace. Operators have certainly quieted the whole canal system this day.

In between I make a stop at the Rock Dam Pool, where the 6,300 cfs flows have the rocks roiling with lively current, and the anglers reeling in fish, seemingly at will. For the first time ever here I see two men standing and fishing below the Rock Dam’s fall in a motorized Zodiac type craft. Between the boat, the fishers wading out in the Rock Dam Pool, and the people tossing darts from the ledge over the pool, there are nine anglers fishing the site—eight men and a woman.

And the shad are streaming in. In the fifteen minutes I spend there, five fish are brought to shore. When I ask one guy to pause with his catch for a minute while I shoot a photo, he obliges. “How’s it been for you?” I ask. “I can’t seem to make a mistake today—I’ve had two dozen,” he tells me. “Well, I guess you know what you’re doing.” “Hey, I ran the Turners Falls Dam for 8-1/2 years,” he says. I nod, adding, “I guess then you know exactly when it’s time to come down here for shad.”
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The other great thing that has happened for anglers with these actual flows in the river: almost nobody is relegated to tossing lines in the stillness of the power canal. The anglers and the fish are all in the river.

Shad fishing reported as excellent below Turners Falls

Posted by on 12 May 2015 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, By Pass Reach, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Dead Reach, FERC licensing process, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad fishing, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized

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After decades of dismal flows and poor fishing, shad anglers immediately below the Turners Falls Dam and downstream at the Rock Dam Pool near the Conte Fish Lab, are reporting some excellent fishing. Federally-mandated test flows to help track migratory fish movement upstream through the Dead Reach of the Connecticut River below Turners Falls Dam commenced last Thursday. By Sunday, three fishermen at the Rock Dam Pool reported excellent catches while the dam was releasing 6,300 CFS (Cubic Feet per Second) the previous few days, though they noted it tailed off slightly when flow from the dam was tamped down to 4,400 CFS on Sunday.

Flow to the Rock Dam Pool, the only documented natural spawning site on the river for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, had been cut to mid-summer levels just a week prior. With the test flows, life-giving water was returned to this abused reach of the river and shad readily followed their ancient river path upstream toward Vermont and New Hampshire spawning waters, without being lured into the treacherous Turners Falls Power Canal at Cabot Station, just downstream.

Those shad, at the current 4,400 CFS test-flow level, are currently being landed just below the Turners Falls Dam, where ecosystem-nourishing flows are being introduced here for the first time in decades as part of the studies for relicensing of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage hydro projects on the public’s river.

The test flows will continue for the next several weeks—which should prove an interesting citizen’s science experiment for anglers who report their catch. Flows at the 4,400 CFS level will continue today, May 12, then will be reduced to 2,500 CFS from Wednesday, May 13, through Friday, and then elevate back up to 6,300 CFS from Saturday, May 16, through Monday, May 18.

Kynard,Part II: Fisheries restoration, or a new half-century of death in the TF Power Canal?

Posted by on 06 Aug 2014 | Tagged as: American shad, By Pass Reach, Cabot Station, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Dead Reach, Dr. Boyd Kynard, ecosystem, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC license, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, shad, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont

Tune in to Local Bias on Greenfield Community Television, GCTV.org, for Part II of a wide ranging interview with fisheries biologist and US Fish & Wildlife Service Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center founder Dr. Boyd Kynard. He gives direct answers to questions about the fate of the millions of American shad that have been tricked out of the Connecticut River into the deadly and alien habitats of the private Turners Falls Power Canal for the last 35 years.

Dr. Boyd Kynard Part II; a Deadly Canal or a River Migration Solution?

http://mfi.re/watch/pdx5yqvqv7ygzdk/Local_Bias_147.mpg

The current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Re-licensing process for FirstLight Power’s Turners Fall/Cabot Station and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Stations represents the last chance the Connecticut River gets to recover some of its biodiversity, fecundity and ecosystem functions for many decades to come. A second failure by the public agencies charged with protecting the public’s fisheries resources and endangered species will likely close off–forever, the last, best chance to restore New England’s Great River.

Will the federal and state agencies responsible for protecting and guiding the migratory fisheries restoration since 1967 (USFWS, National Marine Fisheries Service, VT, NH, and MA Division of Fish & Wildlife), again steer migratory fish headed upstream to northern MA, VT and NH spawning habitats into a private “roach motel” of deadly hydro blades and muck? Or, will they bring them directly upstream to a fish elevator at the Turners Falls and redeem decades of failure? Get the low-down, and hear about viable alternatives in this half-hour interview.

Tune in to Local Bias this Thursday, August 7 at 9 pm, or on Saturday, August 9th, at 9 pm. The shows repeat at those scheduled times the following week.

Unconscionable: The Fate of the “Canal Nine”

Posted by on 09 Sep 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Conte, Dead Reach, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC license, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, shad, Turners Falls power canal, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab

Note: the following piece appeared this August in Connecticut River Valley publications including: Vermont Digger, www.vtdigger.org; the Daily Hampshire Gazette, www.gazettenet.com, The Montague Reporter and The Shelburne Falls Independent, and at The Recorder www.recorder.com, (edited version).

THE FATE OF THE CANAL NINE

Copyright © 2013, by Karl Meyer     All Rights Reserved

Forty-three years after being chosen as the upstream route for migratory fish, the Turners Falls power canal remains the black hole of fisheries restoration on the Connecticut.  In current filings the US Fish & Wildlife Service is requesting telemetry coverage across the mid-Turners Falls canal to puzzle out the unexplained fate of thousands of fish.  Trout Unlimited wants balloon-tagged shad and more monitors bracketing its powerhouse to study turbine kills and migratory delay.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wants a hydraulics study of that canal, where all migrants must bypass two turbine stations, then negotiate blistering turbulence just to have a shot at spawning in Vermont and New Hampshire.  On August 14, 2013, canal/dam owners GDF-Suez FirsLight rejected those studies as unnecessary in legal filings for a new 30 – 50 year federal operating license.

While every fish attempting to spawn upstream of Turners Falls dam must enter the canal, scores of questions about their fate there remain unanswered.  Basic questions like, do shad spawn in the canal, have never been studied–even though shad spend an average of 25 days there and just one-fish-in-ten that enters emerges beyond the canal.  US Geological Survey Conte Fish Lab researchers have been paid by Northeast Utilities and FirstLight for studies to improve the fish exit from the canal for the past 15 years.  Yet forty-three years after this system was put in place, it’s still one-fish-in-ten.  And canal spawning, germane to the ecosystem restoration puzzle, has never been studied.

Even more basic to success is this: if only one fish in ten makes it through—what’s the fate of the other “canal-nine”?  But you don’t pose that question if you want to keep being paid to study the public’s fish in the company’s private canal.  You study little sections of the canal–fiddle around near the company’s preferred exits and entrances—make big claims for tiny, discreet successes.  A mountain of data is collected, yet never finalized, published; nor peer reviewed.  After 15 years of study and reengineering, it’s still one-fish-in-ten.  Other agency experts wink in this shared belief: most fish entering that canal don’t survive.  Sliced-up in downstream turbines, they flush directly into the river.

“Unconscionable” is the term Dr. Boyd Kynard uses for plans afoot to move hundreds of thousands of shad into that canal via a new lift (as opposed to tens of thousands today.)   He’s an award-winning fish passage expert who logged over 25 years as a federal fish scientist– helping found the Conte Fish Lab while with the US F&WS.  Kynard believes the ineffective ladder system in place there for decades may have actually saved hundreds of thousands of fish from death in Cabot Station turbines, “The Cabot ladder is so bad most fish never reach the canal where most will exit downstream through deadly station turbines.”

Kynard, a fish behavior specialist who studied shad passage and turbine mortality at Holyoke Dam through the 1980s, believes a new lift below Cabot Station could prove the ecosystem’s next 50-year disaster.  He witnessed massive fish kills in Holyoke’s canals in the early 1980s when, starting in 1976, a new lift passed hundreds of thousands of fish upstream to spawn for the first time in 120 years.  It was hugely successful, but no one foresaw what would happen when adults headed back to sea.  While part of the migrants rode over the dam during high flows, others reencountered the dam-and-canal-system.  Tens of thousands got sucked into turbines at Hadley Falls Station or died in the canal–unable to return safely to the river. A stench of rotting fish hung over that city while dump truck after dump truck hauled tens of thousands of dead shad from the canal to the landfill.  (That condition was eventually remediated when dam owners installed a louver system in the canal to divert down-running shad into a pipe and back to the river, thus bypassing all turbines.)

But whereas Holyoke’s lift allowed shad to first spawn upstream in the river before encountering turbines, at Turners two hundred thousand fish could find themselves in a turbine-filled canal before ever getting a chance to spawn in Vermont, New Hampshire or northern Massachusetts.  And this canal’s Frances-type turbines are far more deadly than Holyoke’s.  Stressed, those newly-lifted shad can encounter two discreet turbine sites before meeting the massive canal turbulence near the dam.

This ecosystem can’t absorb another 40-year failure in the Turners Falls canal.  The USFWS, TU, and the Connecticut River Watershed Council are backing a study–adopted from Kynard’s Holyoke work, which would use low-frequency sound to deflect shad from entering the canal.  If deployed correctly it could send migrating fish straight upriver to a lift at the dam, like the one that’s succeeded at Holyoke for decades.  It’s a simple, inexpensive study–one FirstLight is already seeking to limit to a single year, or exclude altogether.  But it’s FERC who’ll decide by September 13th.  And they have a mandate to protect the public’s fish.

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

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

Copyright © 2013, by Karl Meyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dam Relicensing: Diving into the Dead Reach

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

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

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

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

Go to:  http://www.gctv.org/node/5264

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

The Dead Reach: A Community Forum on WHMP

Posted by on 20 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Dead Reach, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, US Fish & Wildlife Service

On Tuesday, January 22, from 8 – 10 a.m., WHMP Radio, 1240 and 1400 a.m., and 96.9 f.m. in Northampton, will host a community forum to explore the future of the Connecticut River’s Dead Reach at Mile 120 in Turners Falls.  Hosted by Bob Flaherty, Denise Vozella, Bill Newman, and Mary Serez, the Live Forum will be held at Sylvester’s Restaurant on Pleasant Street in Northampton. Panel will be made up of myself, Dr. Boyd Kynard who has conducted a quarter century of fish behavior research in this stretch of the CT including groundbreaking work on federally endangered shortnose sturgeon, and US Fish & Wildlife Service Connecticut River Coordinator Ken Sprankle, as well as US F&WS dam and fish passage expert John Warner.

Stop by Sylvester’s, or listen to the forum, which will also be available by Podcast.  Find out how federal licensing decisions being made for Mile 120 on the CT will affect the ecosystem for decades to come.  Will shortnose sturgeon be protected?  Will American shad and blueback herring finally reach Vermont and New Hampshire after being locked out of this river reach for 214 years?  Tune in!

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