migratory fish

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More Connecticut River citizens’ defense

Posted by on 13 Jan 2022 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, American shad, Clean Water Act, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River blog, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Endangered Species Act, EPA, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, fish kill, Holyoke Co. v Lyman, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, migratory fish, Nation's best landscaped sewer, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, NU/WMECO, P-2485, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Source to Sea Cleanup, US Fish & Wildlife Service

THE CONNECTICUT RIVER’S CITIZEN DEFENSE continues:
While FirstLight’s secret January license “settlement” talks continue–centered around leaky net ideas and spit-and-glue window dressing at Northfield Mountain, the public is demanding that its 50 years of devastation cease.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybwy8MBiy9I
* * NOTE: ABOVE is a link to a Wilbraham Public Library ecology lecture series I was asked to take part in last November. The title of my presentation was: “LIVING RIVERS FLOW DOWNSTREAM.” IT IS A KEY HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE to understanding why we live in a broken ecosystem… * *

https://www.gazettenet.com/my-turn-meyer-LastLightCtRiver-44127152

FirstLight led closed-door bargaining with state and federal fish and environment agencies are continuing here in MA, while an ongoing flood of citizen testimony to end Northfield Mountain’s license to kill continues at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

THOSE DEMANDS–from no less than 77 people since November 13th, are also sending a very clear signal to the MA Division of Fish & Wildlife, MA DEP, the US Fish & Wildlife, and National Marine Fisheries Service:

DON’T SELL OUT New England’s Great River for another half-century!

* Read the latest public testimony targeting Northfield lethal ecosystem destruction entered into the FERC record further below.*

BUT FOR THE LONG VIEW, HERE’S A LITTLE ILLUMINATING HISTORY:

Only living rivers flow downstream. But that’s not what you find on the Connecticut River in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Here, 150 years after the US Supreme Court guaranteed safe upstream and downstream passage of migratory fish to and from New Hampshire and Vermont—and a full half century after the enacting of the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station continues to chew-through, reverse and obliterate the key living ecosystem functions of New England’s critical central artery here in northern Massachusetts.

The grim prospects of allowing Northfield to be built were widely known by federal and state agencies half a decade before it began its deadly, net-power loss, river-reversing ecosystem damage. Here, from the same agencies that are today’s MA Fish & Wildlife, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the entities still publicly responsible for environmental enforcement and river fish protection), are their words from a key, signed, 1967 document:

“Statement of Intent for a Cooperative Fishery Restoration Program for the Connecticut River Basin”

“Based on the present fragmentary data available on the Northfield Pump Storage Project, it appears that this project poses definite limitations to an anadromous fish restoration program. These limitations involve the physical loss of eggs, larvae, and young fish of both anadromous and resident species, and an orientation problem for both upstream and downstream migrants attributed to pumping large volumes of water. Studies, designed to minimize the potential adverse effects to fishery resources, should be undertaken in development of the design for the Northfield Pump Storage Project. In related studies, fish screens, barriers and deflectors, and flow regimen must be thoroughly investigated.”

Those agencies’ inaction, their failure to protect–while instead indulging in a massive frenzy to recreate an extirpated salmon hybrid in place of a fish not seen here since 1809, proved disastrous for the river’s still-living fish runs and species in this four-state ecosystem. Today, absurdly, a deadly Northfield Mountain soldiers on, while—50 years later those same agencies dicker with foreign owners over emplacing a new band-aid of a barrier net—one full of holes, upstream of that deadly, river-reversing suction.

In the “library” at the Connecticut River Watershed Council—today’s “Conservancy”, there is a boxed, mid-1960s promotional document from WMECO/Northeast Utilities. NU is today does business as Eversource, the perennial chief sponsor of the Conservancy’s Source to Sea Cleanup. That half-century old box contains a glossy booklet promoting the future construction of a Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. The booklet includes several scenarios and options to premise how of its net-loss power pumping operations might be deployed.

One of them was a glaring red flag for the river, its fish, and an entire ecosystem…

The Watershed Council HQ has a private library within…

THAT SHUTDOWN OPTION, never implemented, was that Northfield’s impacts would be so detrimental to the river and life cycles of its migratory fish that it would have to be shut it down during fish migration season. But here again, no watchdog ever emerged to stand up and fight for a living Connecticut River in Massachusetts. Basically, the only protection ever offered was a net to protect their mythical, teeny, hatchery-bred baby salmon, leaving all the river’s other species to fend for themselves.

Thus Northfield’s gargantuan and lethal water and fish appetite still strangles New England’s four-state ecosystem today. And, half a century later, those same public agencies are allowing a power company to dangle the grim bait of temporary fish barrier net before them once more.

ABOVE IS AN EPA-ORDERED “silt barrier” mandated to be kept in place at FirstLight’s Northfield intake after they were caught flagrantly and clandestinely dumping a mountain of muck directly into the river for over 90 days straight in gross violation of the Clean Water Act. Looking closely, you can see it has FAILED, its anchors useless, and its floats flapping in the breeze along the shoreline downstream of Northfield’s sucking intake. Photo taken 10/2/2010.

Even two years after Northfield came on-line the Federal Power Commission–today’s FERC, still had not been given answers to information they’ requested of WMECO–today’s Eversource, including describing flows on a reversing river. This is a Xeroxed document from FERC:

20010120-0656 FERC PDF (Unofficial) 09/10/2014: January 22, 1974, from the Federal Power Commission to WMECO:

Robert E. Barrett, Jr.,President.
Western Massachusetts Electric Company
West Springfield, Massachusetts 01089

Dear Mr. Barrett:
The Commission staff is presently preparing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Turners Falls Project (No. 1889) and requests the following information:
(1) In the revised Fxhibit W of the application (page 43, second paragraph), reference is made to the continuing resident fish study being conducted in Turners Falls Reservoir. Please provide a copy of the results obtained since the last Progress Report. If the study has not been completed, please indicate the date you expect a report to be available.

(2) In Exhibit W (pages 19, 20, and Figure 5), the conditions expected to produce flow reversals in the Turners Falls ‘Reservoir as a result of Northfield operation were set forth. Since the Northfield Mountain Project became operational, which of the conditions described have been observed to produce reverse flows? Based on operational experience, are there any observed or anticipated changes in the patterns, durations, or velocities of the flows described therein? Your early response in providing this information would be appreciated.
Very truly yours,
Secretary

On October 16, 1974, WMECO’s lawyers finally replied in the negative to the Federal Power Commission’s questions, stating they still had not implemented the required study which would offer answers to questions about the impacts of reversing the flow of the Connecticut:

“Staff also inquired whether the Company had a study on the effect of hydrology caused by the pumping of Northfield Mountain project this year. The Northfield Licensees have not made a formal study but are accumulating data with respect to Pond elevations, flows and other operating data.”

EVERYBODY KNEW 50 YEARS AGO: yet nobody came to the Connecticut’s rescue…

BUT TODAY CITIZENS are standing up for the living river owed future generations. SEE BELOW for the latest entries into the FERC public record…

BUT FIRST, here’s how it can be done:
Go to: www.ferc.gov; then to “Documents and Filings”; then click on the “Quick Links” tab for FERC Online on the right; and then to “eComment” on the page that opens. Follow directions for “Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings (P – Project Number),” and BE SURE TO use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

HERE ARE THE LATEST:

Document Accession #: 20220111-5033 Filed Date: 01/11/2022
Elizabeth J Erickson, Colrain, MA.

As a long time resident of Franklin County I have for a long time been very concerned about the environmental and ecosystem destruction at Northfield mountain because of the power generating plant there. I have been following the research about the decline in fish populations in the Connecticut River nearby because of the turbines and am strongly opposed to the reicensing of the First Light hydropower plant there. I’m actually shocked that the relicensing is even being considered given all that is now known about how destructive the plant is. Please deny any future license of power generation of Northfield Mountain.

thank you,
Elizabeth Erickson
Colrain, Massachusetts

Document Accession #: 20220111-5005 Filed Date: 01/11/2022
John Hoffman, Shelburne Falls, MA.

I am writing to ask that you deny a continuation of the license for FirstLight Hydro Generating Company. The project began as a way to make use of excess power from the Vernon Nuclear Power Plant. That plant is now closed. This license is now simply a vehicle for FirstLight to use its capitol to make a profit.

That profit comes at the expense of the Connecticut River, one of the glories of New England, and the source of outstanding agricultural soils in the Connecticut River valley. Now that we possess a vastly more sophisticated understanding of river ecology, the damage to the river is elaborately documented.

By sucking large volumes of water out of the river and then disgorging them back, the company erodes the river banks which in turn damages water quality. The turbines through which water is sucked destroy aquatic life, from adult fish, to their young and down to their eggs.

This is a primitive way to treat a river. No company in our present era should be allowed to inflict such damage. This river is a part of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. We the citizens ask you to protect the invaluable ecosystem of our preeminent river and deny FirstLight its license.
Future generations will thank you.

Document Accession #: 20220111-5004 Filed Date: 01/11/2022
Molly Freeland, Gill, MA.

To whom it may concern,
I am a resident of Gill Massachusetts and I request that you do not let Northfield Mountain Pump Station renew their license. The pump station is killing all life it sucks up from the river. Millions of fish are dyeing every year, including endangered short nose sturgeon. The pump station causes major erosion in the river banks which then spreads pollution. The pump station is escalating climate change when we need to be looking to renewable energy sources. Please say no to the pump station for our children, grandchildren, all life and the planet.
Sincerely,
Molly Freeland

Document Accession #: 20220111-5002 Filed Date: 01/11/2022
Irma Lorraine Pearson, Greenfield, MA.

If we, residing in the Democratic heart of our country, cannot save the only large river we have, and all the life in it, we are putting our imprimature on the destruction of our planet for the sake of building private fortunes.

The cautionary tale of Midas and his gold works very well here.
Let’s try another path, of freeing the rivers of dams and reversals, and saving 50% of our ecosystem as wilderness.

NO DEAL: amid public opposition FirstLight’s secret Northfield Mountain settlement plans stumble.

Posted by on 10 Jan 2022 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, American shad, Canada, Clean Water Act, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Endangered Species Act, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, migratory fish, Nation's best landscaped sewer, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Public Comment period, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS


NO DEAL: amid public opposition FirstLight’s secret Northfield Mountain settlement plans stumble.

Failing in December to secure a secrecy-shrouded agreement, foreign-owned FL petitions FERC again for what’s now an open-ended “Delay of Action/Extension of Time” request. Thus the opportunity for critical public testimony in FL’s Federal Energy Regulatory relicense bid for Northfield remains WIDE OPEN. (**SEE simple FERC filing instructions at end of post)

As scores of public testimony to end Northfield Mountain’s devastation has poured into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of late, secret license deals with federal and state fish and agencies here in Massachusetts continue to elude FirstLight Power. The MA Division of Fish & Wildlife, US Fish & Wildlife, MA DEP and the National Marine Fisheries Service–responsible to the public for protecting the Connecticut’s migratory and resident fish, flows, and water quality under established law, are legally empowered with “conditioning authority” to end the half century of slaughter wrought by Northfield’s deadly suctioning. They currently hold the keys to determining if the Commonwealth hosts New England’s river-reversing, ecosystem grim reaper for more decades to come.

Democracy for coming generations means not leaving our river in the hands of a private corporation for ANOTHER half century.

FirstLight filed their latest FERC delay bid on January 4, 2022, the same day as Ethel White of Easthampton filed her FERC testimony stating, “I write concerning the Northfield, MA hydroelectric plant application for recertification. I strongly request that recertification be denied,” Meanwhile, FirstLight, that same day filed a “Continued Request to Defer Issuance of Notice of Acceptance / Ready for Environmental Analysis” with FERC for their Delaware tax-sheltered MA facilities here. Yet, with this latest delay request it appears they’ve discovered their venture capital plans for the Connecticut River are not being swallowed whole here in New England.

Parent-owned by Canadian venture capital giant PSP Investments, FirstLight has once again punted on deadlines in what has now become a decade long slog to continue the massive predation of the region’s key ecosystem artery, after a full half century. In its own January 4, 2022 filing FirstLight again begged FERC for relief of its own previously promised deadlines: “FirstLight requests that the Commission continue to defer issuance of the REA Notice until after January 31, 2022, to allow the parties to focus on the agreement in principle. If the parties are able to reach an agreement in principle by that time, they will then request that the Commission further defer issuance of the REA Notice to allow for negotiation of a fully developed, binding settlement agreement that the parties would submit to the Commission as an offer of settlement pursuant to 18 C.F.R. § 385.602.” An “REA” is FERC-speak for “ready for environmental analysis.”

In its Final License Application FirstLight’s big bid as a concession for the massive sucking fish kill annually at Northfield was a temporary 1,000 foot net, with ¾ inch mesh, to be deployed from upstream, and angled to near its suction tunnels to deflect some of the 24 species of adult fish from its giant, river-reversing vortex. That is literally a year round open door to the obliteration of 100s of millions of eggs and tiny young of developing migratory American shad and the two dozen resident and migrant species of the river—but in particular the key spawning, rearing and out-migrating months between late May and mid-October…

Importantly in that regard, the window for DEMOCRACY on our Connecticut River remains wide open for citizen to go on the public with FERC, and as well in the region’s media. Of late, literally scores of citizens have done just that, in FERC testimony that Northfield’s devastation must end and no new license be offered to FirstLight.

Below is Ethel White’s full January 4th on-the-record testimony, from the same day FL requested more FERC time for their venture capital plans for New England’s Great River, its life, and the future generations who are all entitled to a living ecosystem.

* * But first, here’s how you can stand up, on-the-record, in this critical time for the Connecticut River’s future:

GO TO: www.ferc.gov; then to “Documents and Filings”; then click on the “Quick Links” tab for FERC Online on the right; and then to “eComment” on the page that opens. Follow directions for “Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings (P – Project Number),” and BE SURE TO use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

Document Accession #: 20220104-5000 Filed Date: 01/04/2022
Ethel S. White, Easthampton, MA.

I write concerning the Northfield, MA hydroelectric plant application for recertification. I strongly request that recertification be denied. Your commission’s decisions are key to how we deal with climate change. The vast majority of Americans believe that climate change is one of the top issues of today, if not THE top issue. We are on the brink of losing our planet’s ability to sustain human life, and large hydroelectric plants are not beneficial to rivers, aquatic life, or human existence. The Connecticut River is a vital artery in New England, and losing it to environmental degradation would be a tragedy. I hope the Commission will regulate this particular energy source in the proper way, by closing it down.
Sincerely, Ethel S. White

* * Agency heads and personnel representing the public trust:

wendi_weber@fws.gov, Director Region 5 US Fish & Wildlife Service; andrew.tittler@sol.doi.gov, lead council at the table for USFWS; melissa_grader@fws.gov, at the table for our migratory fish; julie.crocker@noaa.gov, National Marine Fisheries Service Endangered Fish Recovery Branch Chief (endangered sturgeon); william.mcdavitt@noaa.gov, at the table for our migratory fish; mark.tisa@state.ma.us, Director of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, jesse.leddick@state.ma.us, Chief of Regulatory Review MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.

Police action threatened at US Fish & Wildlife HQ as constituents try to deliver letters

Posted by on 01 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Refuge, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, migratory fish, National Marine Fisheries Service, net-loss power, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Public Sector Pension Investments, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Recorder, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Wendi Weber, WWLP TV Channel 22 News

Police action threatened at US Fish & Wildlife HQ as constituents tried to deliver letters on Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A cold, socially-distanced public welcome at USFWS Headquaters in Hadley for visiting citizens as security guard reaches to phone police. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

SEE also, this Recorder article by Chris Larabee, here also featured in the Gazette: https://www.gazettenet.com/Two-make-20-mile-hike-to-protest-FirstLight-s-potential-relicensing-43803954

HADLEY MA. A security guard at Hadley’s US Fish and Wildlife Headquarters threatened to call police on Karl Meyer of Greenfield and Dave Dersham of Northampton and a handful of their supporters after completing a 20 mile protest walk to the facility at around 4 pm Tuesday. The two were interviewed by the Recorder and WWLP TV Channel 22 News along the route. Their trek from Greenfield to Hadley was made to call attention to a final, closed-door license “settlement” negotiation scheduled by Canada-owned FirstLight with the US Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries, and MA Division of Fish and Wildlife for Thursday, December 2nd. FirstLight wants the agencies to sign-off on a final deal in the 9 year-old Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process relicensing the massive suctioning of the Connecticut River at their 49 year old Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

Banner on federal relicensing of Northfield Mountain displayed at USFWS HQ. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The duo and three other citizens including a 14 year-old and an infant, were quickly denied entrance during regular business hours as they attempted to deliver notes and letters to USFWS Regional Director Wendi Weber. A security guard sitting behind a front lobby window tersely told them their letters, in an open manila envelope, would not be accepted at the public HQ. When they made further inquiry the guard became defensive, without offering alternatives, and then escalated the situation by demanding no picture taking was allowed and they leave the lobby or “I will call the police.” Asking why, the guard offered no further discussion, instead repeating the police threat and then dialing a phone where visitors heard her request that Hadley police cruiser be dispatched.

One of the messages constituents wanted to convey to USFWS Director Wendi Weber. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

At that point the visitors left the lobby with their letters, and continued their discussions in front of the unwelcoming Headquarters building. The group, also supported earlier in the day by a dozen protesters who’d met the two walkers on the Sunderland Bridge, were completing trip by collecting handwritten messages for Weber from the public. All were being sent to highlight the obliteration the 100’s of millions of eggs and young-of-the year migratory and resident fish killed by Northfield giant turbines annually. They are asking USFWS representatives to deny FirstLight’s license proposal of placing a temporary “barrier” net, with ¾ inch mesh, in front of NMPS for a few months each year. They say FL’s “safety net” will be patently ineffectual in preventing the long-standing annual carnage to Connecticut River fish populations in the heart of the ecosystem and S.O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Supporters standing, post-ejection, in front of USFWS Headquarter. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

After several more minutes standing in the cold and talking in front of the headquarters Anne Sittauer, a USFWS Refuge Supervisor, was sent outside to speak to the group, now totaling eight. Sittauer stated the Region 5 Director was busy, but she would accept the letters on Weber’s behalf, giving assurances they’d reach her. No squad car ever arrived and no arrests took place among the peaceful visitors, after being threatened, denied entrance and receiving a patently-shabby un welcome at the facility. Surely it was an eye-opening public interaction for the teenager, the grandmother, and the handful of other citizens asking federal representatives to honor their public trust by protecting the public’s fish—fish being annually obliterated for the last 49 years in the heart of today’s S.O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge—one of only two of 568 national refuge’s with “fish” specifically in its title.

REIMAGINING A RIVER: The Year without Northfield Mountain

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

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER VII

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

SPRING: Private Profit; Public Loss

Posted by on 26 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Connecticut River, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, FISH CAM, fish passage, Holyoke Dam, Holyoke Fish Lift, Humor, ISO New England, migratory fish, Northfield Mountain, shad fishing, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Slim Shad Point, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, USFWS

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER VI

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SPRING: Private Profit; Public Loss

Despite the enormous and longstanding damages the Industrial Age visited upon the Connecticut River—the early clear-cutting of the north woods, the building of the main stem dams and canals, the profligate effluent pollution, the thermal heating from a pair of nuclear reactors, the eviscerating impacts of a massive, river-reversing pumped storage project, it somehow has survived into the 21st century with a relatively robust and still-restorable spring run of American shad in its lower reaches.


Fishing Slim Shad Pt. Holyoke Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge; back arrows to return)

The Connecticut is indeed rare in that respect—as well as for being host to the most successful fishway on the entire East Coast, with a lift first put in place at Holyoke Dam in 1955. That spurred a New England fisheries restoration effort begun here between federal and state fisheries agencies in 1967. It is why the Connecticut ultimately became the central artery of the 4-state Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in 1997. But by that time the river’s migratory fisheries restoration had already stalled and foundered in Massachusetts just 36 miles upstream of Holyoke, at the foot of the Turners Falls power canal and dam.


Shad Angler Wading at Holyoke Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge; back arrows to return)

The complex of fish ladders and canal routes chosen and installed there in 1980 were largely weighted toward passage of a new, mass-produced hatchery-hybrid salmon strain. They proved an obvious and instant failure for the hundreds of thousands of shad returning to pass that place as soon as all the concrete dried. Vermont, New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts—never received their promised bounty.

And so it is to this day. The Connecticut, still massively overworked and under-protected, remains without any new bona fide restoration success for migrating shad in 3 out of 4 of the states over its 410 mile reach over the last 30 years. Where have the fish successfully passed? You need not go far to identify the break point. Smack in the heart of this spring’s migration peak here’s a quick look at the stats for fish passage success up through Memorial Day weekend. As of May 25, 2020, some 274,370 shad had been lifted past Holyoke Dam according to USFWS Connecticut River Project Leader Ken Sprankle.

And at Turners Falls? Well, the last report offered included a total of 735 shad passing as of May 17, 2020. They don’t report regularly from Turners Falls. If FirstLight had just installed a simple Fish Cam the public would have had something this year—while all their license-required recreational access has been shut down tight this spring, including fish viewing, camping, even hiking trails. But, just to compare: as of that same date, May 17, 2020, Holyoke had already reported passing 51,000 shad upstream. It only takes the 1-1/2 – 2 foot long, blue-green migrants just a day or so to start knocking on the door at Turners Falls. But as the failed restoration numbers have grimly shown for decades, the river’s great run dies in the alternately starved and ramped-up industrial flows set in motion by gatehouse and dam operators at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain.

Listless Riverbed at Turners Falls, May 14, 2020
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
. (Click X 3 to enlarge; back arrows to return)

It’s now three migration seasons past the April 30, 2018 expiration date of the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for FirstLight’s Turners Falls Dam, yet no legally-mandated fish passage–upstream and down, has been constructed. Literally nothing has been done. While citizens in three states—including fifteen cities, towns and villages, are yet to see their rightful share of the river’s fish.

As always, FERC and ISO-New England (in Holyoke) have both made sure to requisition and have available a glut of power for the sprawling Northeast power grid here (at public expense, but without public input of course) It’s way more than enough to easily exceed the grip of a summer heat wave. Climate emergency be damned… It does means big corporate profits. Meanwhile, it’s mid-spring. Power use is at a low annual ebb. Yet New England’s Great River here in the United States is currently starved of both its fish and life-giving flows at Turners Falls–while Canada’s shareholder-owned FirstLight Power exports its profits out of the region.

A living river is a public right here. Whose pockets are being lined?

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

FISH CAM: Let the People See Their FISH!

Posted by on 05 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, FISH CAM, Great River Hydro, Holyoke Dam, Holyoke Fish Lift, migratory fish, Northfield Mountain, sea lamprey, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Turners Falls, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER II

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 2, FISH CAM: Let the People See Their FISH!

Covid-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to cancel everything–especially when you owe something to an isolated and deserving public. If you’re a power company profiting from a resource like the Connecticut River, isn’t it just the minimum of responsibility and common courtesy when things are taken away, to offer something in its place? I’m not seeing that on New England’s Great River. But I am certain all will be seeing new electricity bills this month–the companies seeking payment while so many are out of work.

Holyoke Fishway w/Shad Debry sign. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.Click X 3.(NOTE: then hit the BACK BUTTON)

Yet there will be no spring family trips to the River to see the great fish migration through Holyoke Gas & Electric’s viewing windows at the South Hadley Falls. No moms will be receiving a little public relations carnation for visiting there this Mother’s Day. And scores of anglers will go wanting there too. The company-sponsored annual Shad Derby won’t be held on successive weekends this spring either. The Fishway lot at Holyoke Dam will be gated and locked.


TF Fishway Gate Locked. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

Upstream at Turners Falls, FirstLight’s little fish-viewing cavern just above the ancient falls will be locked down tight as well. There will be no family or school program visits; no access to the churning river at its most dynamic season. Just further upstream, FirstLight has closed Barton Cove to all camping, kayak rentals, and hiking. Five miles further on they’ve cancelled all riverboat tours, use of the Riverview boat launch, plus all use of the extensive trail system on FirstLight’s sprawling Northfield Mountain recreation property. It’s quite a cancellation laundry list. They want us safe—noting, as others, the state safety guideline for Covid 19.

Turners Falls Dam, May 25, 2019. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

If you were thinking—maybe a bit further upstream in Vermont you might get to witness the great migration of American shad, sea lamprey and blueback herring at Great River Hydro’s Vernon Dam Fishway, well, you’re again out of luck. The padlock remains on the gates there too. Nobody will be entering that bunker where bubble-filled windows sometimes offer a steady stream of passing shad, and close-up looks at the pulsing gills of lamprey—suctioning mouths glued to the glass, resting a minute before continuing upstream. Only the nesting phoebes in the dark corner of that cavern will have free access in that chained-off place.

Vernon Dam March 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

Phoebe’s nest at Vernon Fishway. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

But don’t these for-profit and shareholder-owned companies have a responsibility to the local citizenry as they bill them to benefit stockholders who likely have no physical and intimate connection to the far-off Connecticut River they profit from? The truth is–the activities they won’t be providing for the public this year because of the Covid virus are actually required by law, as part of their federal and state operating licenses.

Conversely, these companies will not be carrying the payroll obligations for all their seasonal employees. There won’t be fishway guides and Shad Derby officials staffing Holyoke; nor will there be seasonal employees hired and staffing the Turners Falls Fishway, Barton Cove Campground, their kayak rentals—nor staffing and running the riverboat, the Visitors Center, nor staff maintaining those mileS of extensive trails and Riverview Picnic area, nor the Munn’s Ferry camp sites. All closed. That’s a considerable Covid-19 savings, and great loss to a cooped-up public…

TF Fishway, Simple Snapshot–its that easy! Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

Can’t something be done to give the public back their river access in this Covid-skewed spring? Is the public owed nothing more than an electric bill?

Well here’s a suggestion—and it’s not even thinking outside the corporate box. It’s time to offer the public FISH CAM, at each of these privatized falls and fish passage sites on the Connecticut. They fish cams in Virginia, Minnesota and elsewhere—heck, we even have a turn-key-ready version of it that could be hooked up in a minute at the Turners Falls Fishway. There, for decades, the company got great public relations for broadcasting Eagle Cam, a simple camera feed trained on the nest of the Barton Cove eagles and offered to an eager and enthusiastic public audience near and far.

It could be again reinstituted in a heartbeat at Turners Falls. And nobody would have to climb up into the nest to secure a camera—just put a video cam in those fish viewing windows and let the public have the delightful and comforting views of the Connecticut’s great spring migrations, right from the confinement of their homes. Just set it, and forget it. This would be great therapy for all those hungry for diversion and a river connection—and, wonderful for kids and student’s alike. It’s at least something they can do–and they have all the wires and electricity anyone could ever want. Local CCTV stations would surely help get it going at all these river sites, and viewers would likely tune in with grateful enthusiasm.

The Connecticut’s great migratory fish migration is just picking up steam now. Typically the runs begin moving toward peak in the several weeks following Mother’s Day, and continue right through June. Let’s give the public–the moms, dads, and kids something back during this greatly deprived spring. Hey Holyoke Gas & Electric; hey FirstLight—hey, Great River Hydro, please—it’s time to honor those obligations to the public on the public’s river. No excuses while shareholders profit. This is the simplest and quickest way to give just one thing back. With today’s technology you wouldn’t imagine this couldn’t be done by just aiming a laptop at the fish-viewing windows at Holyoke and Vernon, where an Eagle Cam never existed. It’s of out-of-the-box technology, to fulfill just one of the many unoffered public obligations this spring. Zoom in on the fish!

Please, no more telling the folks what won’t be offered or done in this bright season—now’s the time—and the place–and the season, for Fish Cam. If Minnesota and Virginia figured this out years ago, we should have it here on the Connecticut. It should be the standard. It’s a small gesture at a tiny cost–giving back a bit of comfort to those isolated at home or unable to get to the river. It’s a win-win, for all involved. Let the people tune in; let the public see their fish!

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER

Posted by on 28 Apr 2020 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, Bellows Falls VT, blueback herring, Canada, climate-heating, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, ecosystem, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, Holyoke Dam, Holyoke Fish Lift, Holyoke Gas & Electric, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Micah Kieffer, migratory fish, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, pumped storage, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad, shortnose sturgeon, State of Delaware, The Great Eddy, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vermont, Vermont Yankee

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 1, First Daylight for an Embattled Run

The tiniest spark of life reentered New England’s Great River on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. According to Ken Sprankle, Connecticut River Project Leader for the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the fish lifts began operating that morning at the Holyoke Dam, 82 miles from the sea. And on that day the first two migrating American shad of the spawning season were lifted upstream.


Holyoke Dam. Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click x3.

I got that fragile bit of good news on Earth Day, and it was truly a bright spot in what seems a very distant and fragile time for people, ecosystems, and our beleaguered planet. And during this Covid pandemic, while our warming atmosphere is experiencing a brief respite from the particulate pummeling of jets and cars, the Connecticut is being brutalized as catch basin for all the chemicals, chlorine and antibiotics that are currently being flushing out into–and right through, our sewage treatment plants to the River… As such, the Connecticut had little to celebrate on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.

Nonetheless those two fish meant there would at least be some vestige of the spring run that once fed river communities for hundreds of miles along this central artery for untold centuries into the past.

It’s the public’s river, and these are the public’s fish. Those are the facts that I always keep in mind whenever I write or speak about the Connecticut. But there’s also this basic tenet for me: a river is a living system; it exists of its own right and its right to survive and thrive should thus be an unquestioned part of its existence. We humans have a moral obligation to protect the life of rivers, just as they have nourished, protected and supported the very ecosystems we’ve relied on for time immemorial.

For me, to kill a river is an immoral act. To flaunt any part of the legal framework that federal and state law has put in place protecting them is both criminal and repugnant. But maybe that’s just me…

Holyoke Dam looking toward Fish Lifts. Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click x3.

Now two shad aren’t much in many minds, I’ll admit. But what those two shad—likely early males meant, was that the Connecticut had actually become a living river once more. At least a part of it. That tenuous little reconnection was completed when one fat, industrial bucket of river water was pulled from the downstream side of Holyoke Dam and dumped on the upstream side. Two living, blue-green American shad swam out into 35 miles of upstream river that all downstream fish are denied access to for some six months out of every year. That’s way less than a half-living river.

But what that tiny spark meant, more than symbolically was that—on the most basic level, the Connecticut was reopened along a tiny stretch as a true river–a TWO-WAY highway where migrating and resident fish can move both upstream and down as part of this ancient ecosystem highway.

The Holyoke Dam is historic for two reasons: First, it is the barrier at the center of the 1872 landmark US Supreme Court decision in Holyoke Company v. Lyman that established that dam owners and operators must provide passage for migratory fish—both upstream, and downstream, of their barriers. Second, though imperfect and of the simplest most basic design—i.e. upstream, in-river attraction flows leading migrating fish to be corralled in a closeable, industrial bucket and lifted over the dam–those Holyoke Fish lifts have remained the most successful fish passage on the entire East Coast since 1955.

For the next few months Holyoke’s industrial buckets will facilitate a stuttering recreation of the former Connecticut as a living, 2-way river while American shad, sea lamprey, shortnose sturgeon and blueback herring attempt to access ancient spawning grounds. For many that open habitat reaches all the way to the dam between Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH–nearly 90 miles upriver. That ancient destination, however, remains a cruel impossibility for all but a fortunate few migrants…

The Great Eddy at Bellows Falls Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click x 3.

Once again this spring the vast majority of those hundreds of thousands of fish passing upstream at Holyoke will be thwarted from reaching the wide open spawning habitat anywhere above the Turners Falls Dam. That dam sits just 35 miles upstream of the Holyoke lifts. It’s an easy swim for most– just a day, maybe two.

But once they approach that river reach and barrier there won’t be accommodating riverbed flows or any lifts offering suitable passage upstream. They’ll encounter vacillating, confused flows and a series of obstacle-filled fish ladders that funnel all migrants into the grim habitats of the Turners Falls power canal before any get an outside chance to squeeze past the dam itself. Most never do. Perhaps one fish in ten will succeed–leaving the next 68 miles of Connecticut River habitat impoverished and all but empty of its ancient migrants.

And for shortnose sturgeon, one of this river’s most ancient species and the only federally-endangered migrant in this ecosystem, prospects are yet more dire. With the actual riverbed in the 2 miles below Turners Falls Dam sporadically deluged and emptied of suitable natural current, these fish are all vulnerable to being again robbed of what should be an annual, slam-dunk spawning aggregation at their only documented natural spawning site in the ecosystem–the Rock Dam in Turners Falls. Another season will go by without life-giving mandated flows to this critical habitat due an absence of enforcement protection and license requirements.

Of course, that was to have changed two years back.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses for operation of the Turners Falls/Cabot Station hydro sites and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project expired two years back on April 30, 2018. New flows and fish passage requirements should have been re-nourishing the endlessly pummeled and impoverished river in the beleaguered miles above and below Turners Falls Dam since that time. However, for the crippled run here, there is literally nothing new. Fish at Turners Falls today are almost as effectively blocked from moving upstream into Vermont, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts waters as they were when the first dam across the Connecticut there blocked these runs beginning in 1798.

Today, the crushing suck-and-surge impacts of Northfield Mountain’s net-energy-loss, peak-price/peak-demand operations continue brutalizing the grimmest 10 miles in the entire ecosystem–cannibalizing the river’s fish runs and chewing through young-of-the-year. Pumped storage is not renewable energy, nor is it anything like the conventional river hydropower much of the public thinks it generates. Northfield Mountain consume vast amounts of virgin electricity from the grid here—most if it generated through imported natural gas, to pump the Connecticut backwards and a mile uphill. NMPS is in reality an energy consumer. It’s massive pull off the grid gets tallied in negative megawatts.

Today, the revival and protection of those long-ago, lawfully mandated runs remains stuck at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain. The so-called FERC 5-year Integrated Licensing Process(ILP) that should have given them their two basic necessities for survival—water, and a safe, timely route upstream and down, actually began in the fall of 2012. It drags on to this day.

The day after FirstLight at long-last submits its final license application for examination to FERC–and the federal fisheries agencies with conditioning authority on the Connecticut, it will be September. September signals the beginning of the 9th year this supposed stream-lined FERC ILP has been malingering on this river system. FirstLight left off negotiations over a year ago with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife for required new river conditions and construction of fish lifts. There has been no movement since that time.

Any delay in the construction of a fish lift at Turners Falls, and the requirement for real, life-sustaining flows in the riverbed, benefits this recently-arrived power company. Their interest is in stakeholder and corporate profit—and this is a Canadian-owned outfit that re-registered all of these assets out of Massachusetts, chopping them into a series of tax sheltered Delaware LLCs in late-2018. FERC continues to allow FL “extensions of time” to make their license-required filings, delaying what have long-been federally required mandates for river and migratory fish protections.


The de-watered Rock Dam Pool where shortnose sturgeon attempt to spawn, just after 6:00 a.m., May 17, 2019. Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click x 3.

FL is now citing that restructuring as another reason for delay in submitting their “final license application” until August 31, 2020—that’s two years and four months of operating and profiting from a destructive and river de- pauperizing extended license. The current extension still requires only 400 cubic feet per second to be released into the Connecticut River bed in the spring migration season through which shad attempt to move upstream in—and embattled,federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon attempt to spawn in. That’s the equivalent of substituting a small brook for a river. Sturgeon spawning fails at the Rock Dam site most years, often caused by the abrupt ratcheting of those spring flows down to little more than that trickle.

Studies and investigations by the federal fish agencies show that a massive increase in sustained spring flows are baseline requirements for a living river here. Last year n the first week of May spring flows of some 10,000 cubit feet per second were coursing down the Connecticut’s “dead reach” here–and right through the Rock Dam pool. Shad anglers were landing fish by the dozen. On May 10, 2019, USGS Conte Lab researcher Micah Kieffer put out a research net overnight in that pool. Then next morning he found 48 federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon weighing it down—the largest aggregation ever recorded there. Kieffer continued his successful sturgeon netting through the following week, until coming up empty on Friday, May 17, 2019. He got “skunked” that day after flows through the Rock Dam reach were abruptly cut by FL to a relative trickle, exposing the cobble-lined shores of that pool where embryos and young develop.

Clearly, those 10,000 cfs flows are what are necessary to restore life to this river. They are required and long overdue—at a season when electricity demand is at some of its lowest points in the year.

The first year license extension by FERC was allowed because of the shuttering of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant upstream. VY’s excessive, night nuclear megawatts were the grim, 40 year engine that enabled Northfield Mountain to suck the river into reverse and pump it up into a 4 billion gallon reservoir to later re-create second-hand electricity at high prices.

Now restructured, FL appears in no hurry to move ahead with new licenses. Their study results have often been delayed in being handed over to the federal fisheries agencies and study teams in this relicensing–or handed in on the very last day the process requires. They seem happy to tread water and realize profits–while NMPS’s fish-eating, net-energy loss operations continue running along, largely fueled via the imported, climate-scorching, natural gas generated electricity now bloating the grid.

The longer you don’t have to put a shovel in the ground or give this US River its flows for federally-required fish passage, the more money you keep. It’s time FERC stopped letting them off the hook. Stop stringing this process along. It’s time this river was brought into compliance with 1872’s Holyoke Company v. Lyman; it’s time to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. It is the public’s river; these are the public’s fish.

Addendum: on Friday, April 24th, USFWS’s Ken Sprankle sent a note that the Holyoke Gas & Electric had shut down its fish lifts due to accumulating debris in its assembly. They would not operate through the weekend, and a fix would be attempted on Monday. Thus, the Connecticut became a one-way stream again anywhere above South Hadley Falls, leaving the next 88 empty miles of river still in midst of an endless vigil–awaiting the migratory runs guaranteed by the Supreme Court 148 years ago. Hopefully, for those migrating shad—and perhaps other early migrants wasting another week’s precious spawning-energy reserves while knocking on Holyoke’s door, those lifts are again operating and in full motion today.

STILL ENOUGH WATER IN THE DEERFIELD RIVER FOR FISH?

Posted by on 16 Aug 2019 | Tagged as: American shad, bass, Connecticut River, Deerfield MA, Deerfield River, Deerfield River watershed, ecosystem, fish kill, migratory fish, monitoring, Pocumtuck, sea lamprey, shortnose sturgeon, Stillwater, trout, water withdrawals

Still enough water for fish in the Deerfield River?

Text and photos Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All rights reserved.

(Click 3 X to enlarge)

Rivers are the central arteries of ecosystems. When a river is damaged or broken—anywhere from its headwaters to its mouth, that system withers; its aquatic life falters.

Just above the mouth of the Deerfield River are the few miles of a reach known as by many as Stillwater. It’s the home of trout, bass and other resident species, as well as hosting several migratory species during and spring, summer and early fall. The weeks from late spring through summer are critical for fragile young-of-the-year fish in these reaches. They are the progeny that will carry-on and replace future generations of aquatic life.

For hundreds of years the fertile lands on both sides the Deerfield River south of Deerfield Academy have been cultivated for life-giving crops—corn, squash, onions, etc. Like the fish that historically fed generation upon generation of Deerfield denizens going back to the first planters, the Pocumtuck, these fields produced life-giving crops. They were crops that grew well in the moist, fertile soils of southern New England–in harmony with this climate’s ample supply of annual rainfall.

But the Deerfield crop profile has changed drastically along those last miles of the river. Though corn is still significant, and big fields of pesticide-ready potato plants are still planted today, there are now hundreds of acres devoted to throw-away, one-time use annual flower cultivation—as well as roll-away turf farms that cart away that local “crop” to unknown developers and developments. These new plantations of intensively water-hungry crops have started dominating the bottomland meadows here over the last 15 years. Today, an energy intensive marijuana growing facility will soon locate in the meadows, also looking for a constant water supply.

What these new boutique crops have in common, besides depending on migrant workers to manage them under the intense summer sun, is massive irrigation. Miles of over-, under- and above-ground piping now dominates the landscape—pumper trucks and self-propelling sprinklers sucking up arcs of water from the lower Deerfield River like it was California’s Central Valley. This is occurring near its intersection with the Green River, and just two miles from the Deerfield’s confluence from the Connecticut–the outlet back to the sea for all migratory fish.

This suctioning is happening in the heat of the summer months, when eggs and young of fish are developing in those shallow, low-flow Stillwater reaches. How much water is being taken from the river at these critical times? How many fish are being inhaled? How do these withdrawals affect the river’s temperature at a time when fragile young need to feed? Rivers and their aquatic life belong to everyone.

Is anyone monitoring this ever-increasing siphoning of flow from the Deerfield River?

All photos Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All rights reserved.
(Click 3 X on any of the photos below for a broader view.)