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A Connecticut River extinction rebellion

Posted by on 30 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Death-Sewer, Delaware LLC, E-Comments, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Extinction Rebellion, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC Comments, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, FISH and Wildlife Refuge??, Holyoke Co. v Lyman, 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, Nation's best landscaped sewer, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, nuclear power, P-2485, pumped storage, right-to-know, shad larvae, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

A VIRTUAL CONNECTICUT RIVER extinction rebellion has been taking place in the region over the last 10 days. Since December 20, 2021, over three dozen people have gone on the record with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stating, unequivocally–and in the clearest terms, that NO new license should be issued for the continued operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station by FirstLight. You can read testimony from the latest thirteen people in the text that follows.

Many have taken this action upon being apprised of some of the most basic information about the high stakes games for the Connecticut’s four-state ecosystem being played out behind closed doors right now. Many learned of this through my Opinion piece, “Last light for New England’s Great River” that appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and The Recorder on December 2oth and 21sth, https://www.gazettenet.com/my-turn-meyer-LastLightCtRiver-44127152 .

It outlined the perilous place our ecosystem is teetering in as “confidential” final license settlement negotiations between Canada-owned FirstLight and MA Division of Fish & Wildlife, MA Div. of Environmental Protection, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries have been taking place during this month.

This citizen action has galvanized amidst the great void of leadership and wholesale lack of enforcement of any and all state and federal environmental statutes on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts these last 49 years. It’s been a half century of predation on a Connecticut River wholly lacking in a watchdog–in a state where a devastated 23 mile-long ecosystem reach literally flows backwards for miles at times, and virtually millions of resident and migratory fish are been obliterated, annually by the massive, daily, energy-squandering suction of Northfield Mountain’s turbines in their venture capital electricity resale boondoggle.

juvenile Connecticut River shad, dead

* *and this killing is NOTHING compared to the millions of juvenile fish extinguished at Northfield annually. Shad a just one species out of two dozen inhaled and obliterated there–an annual extirpation of literally hundreds of millions of juvenile and adult fish, eggs, and aquatic creatures each year.

Today in Massachusetts the Connecticut River at Northfield remains the deadliest “Nation’s best landscaped sewer”–far more drop-dead-deadly for fish and aquatic life than in the decades prior to the Clean Water Act.

I’m certain, if this river had a voice it would be raising it now to say thank you to the folks below, and the many others, who are taking a stand to save the soul of this ancient ecosystem. To read their words, please follow down.

* * ALSO, as we are at the holiday break, there is STILL time to enter your own on-the-record testimony to FERC. This ecosystem does not belong to FirstLight, or the Commonwealth, or the “environmental” agencies that have so long failed to protect it. It belongs to the children of the future. HERE’S HOW TO ENTER YOUR TESTIMONY: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.

THIS is the giant mess in 2010 made when Northfield operators failed at flushing out the accumulated muck, detritus, and death that had been sucked up from the river into their 4 billion gallon reservoir for years. They clogged their mile-long suction tunnels with several feet of mud, and later got caught and ordered to CEASE AND DESIST by the EPA, after dumping truck-load after truck-load of polluting muck directly into the river for over 90 days straight. In direct violation of the CLEAN WATER ACT. This is the MASSIVE RIVER DREDGING OPERATION the EPA ordered. Northfield went down for over HALF a year, yet everyone’s lights stayed on…

* AND HERE ARE THOSE WORDS OF SOME OF THE OTHER FOLKS CURRENTLY TAKING A STAND:


Document Accession #: 20220103-5000 Filed Date: 01/03/2022
Laura Kaye, Northfield, MA.

Dear Commissioners,
I would like to add my voice to those of my neighbors and fellow citizens of Massachusetts, who have written many thousands of words to you in support of our great Connecticut River, which has been so adversely impacted by the pumping station in Northfield – from the waste of energy from fossil fuels burned to send water uphill just so it can flow down back into the river, to the destruction of fish, and more recently impacting our tax base. Please read the detailed comments that so many people have sent to you and DO NOT approve the re licensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumping Station. For the people and the environment upon which we depend for our continuing survival.

Document Accession #: 20211230-5080 Filed Date: 12/30/2021
Mary Hall, South Hadley, MA.

I am seeking to comment on FirstLight’s relicensing bid for the NorthfieldMountain Pumped Storage Station on the Connecticut River.

I consider it is past time for that Pumping Storage Station to cease operation. The ecological costs of operation, as detailed by Karl Meyer of Greenfield, Mary J. Metzger of Westfield, and others is far too great for continued use of this facility to be justifiable.

Mr. Meyer explains how, in order to continue operations, FirstLight has undertaken to avoid tax payments for its use. In the event the facility was economically viable, it would not be necessary to obtain a tax shelter for it to continue to operate.

The Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station is a giant counterbalance to all of our efforts to maintain and restore our Connecticut River ecosystem. There is nothing anyone can do in advocacy for fish and other aquatic life that can remedy the harm that the Storage Station produces. To say again: The fact that FirstLight thought they needed a tax shelter for the Storage Station testifies to the fact that, even as a business, it is not economically viable.

I ask FERC to deny FirstLight’s bid to relicense the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station for the sake of all aquatic life in our beloved Connecticut River ecosystem.

Document Accession #: 20211230-5007 Filed Date: 12/30/2021
Laura Doughty, Wendell, MA.
RE: Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings FERC Project Number P-2485

I urge FERC in the strongest possible terms: Please do NOT relicense First Light’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage facility. If we are to have anychance at keeping a livable planet, we must start *now* to use wiser and more efficient energy storage technologies. It is ridiculous to let this
corporation use far more energy than it can ever create so that it can perpetuate its business model of buying low and selling high. From an energy conservation point of view it makes no sense, but when one considers the vast ecological damage this facility has been allowed to inflict, it is shameful that it has not been shut down long ago. Please do what is right for our river, and for our planet.

Document Accession #: 20211230-5000 Filed Date: 12/30/2021
James Smethurst, Deerfield, MA.

I am writing to oppose the relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage. It has had a devastating impact on aquatic species in the Connecticut River, some of which, like the shortnose sturgeon, are endangered. It serves no useful purpose other than to provide profits for out of state investors. It is not a renewable energy source, but actually an energy drain, given the power required to pump water from the river uphill. The nuclear power plant whose excess energy Northfield Mountain was supposed to repurpose is no more. It is time to close it down.

James Smethurst
5 Pleasant Avenue
Deerfield, MA

Document Accession #: 20211229-5002 Filed Date: 12/29/2021
Rebecca Robbins, Williamsburg, MA.
Dear FERC,

I am concerned about the fish and other aquatic life that get ground to bits at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. Please do not relicense this facility without ensuring the health of the river and the creatures that live in it.

Thank you,
Rebecca Robbins
Williamsburg, MA

Document Accession #: 20211229-5000 Filed Date: 12/29/2021
Betsy Browning, Colrain, MA.

I am writing to voice my opposition to the relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pump Storage facility. I have learned so much by reading the other letters that I feel morally obligated to add my voice. I grew up within a mile of the French King Bridge and remember the Northfield Mountain project being built. Both Northfield and Erving had great enthusiasm for the bountiful tax money they grew to rely on.

For 49 years the pump storage process has been decimating fish and wildlife along the Connecticut River. Amidst our climate crisis and the threats to species, this living river deserves our protection. Ironically this area is part of the Silvio Conte Fish and Wildlife protected area.

That FirstLight is a subsidiary of Canada owned power company and that they have moved their corporate assets for Northfield Pump Storage and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric to Delaware to avoid Massachusetts taxes, clearly shows their primary goal is maximum profit.

I understand its original plan was to use the excess power from the nuclear plant at Vernon which is now defunct. So using power generated by other means to pump water uphill is now wasteful of resources, outdated, and
impractical.

Someone voiced the brilliant idea that the mountain could be converted to a vast solar site.

Renewing a 50-year license should be unthinkable knowing both the environmental crisis in our midst and the current environmental damage that is occurring daily from the pump storage process.

Document Accession #: 20211229-5084 Filed Date: 12/29/2021
Paul Richmond, WENDELL, MA.

I have a questions why is First Light Power going to sign a new contract
which allows them to continue to use an old technology, which is destroying
the CT River and all life in it. I am speaking of the pumping stations, which sucks up everything in the river and kills it to be pumped out when energy is needed. Storage has been an age old question since we started producing energy. When you have access how to store it. When there was access Nuclear electricity at night when it is consider cheap, they would pump up the water to then release it when they needed electricity at peek times for more money. A reasonable idea if you are an energy company trying to make a profit. Then there is the method you use to do that. Today there are much better batteries being spurred on by alternative energy to address when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. So why isn’t First Light being asked to stop the old method which was and is destroying the river and store the access energy in batteries, or compressed air storage in the new contract they are about to sign with the state. Please do not sign a new agreement with this in it.

Document Accession #: 20211228-5069 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Sid Siff, Amherst, MA.

I am writing to oppose the rel icensing of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage facility on the Connecticut River. At the time of its inception in 1972, it was considered a renewable energy resource, and in 1975 I visited the site on a field trip for a Natural Resource class I was taking at UMass. There was much banter about the benefits of taking ‘extra’ energy from the nearby Vermont Yankee Power Plant in Vernon, and using it to pump water out of the Connecticut River and up to the top of Northfield Mountain, where it was stored and released to spin giant turbines, thereby creating ‘clean’ energy at times of peak demand. Since that time, not only has the nuclear plant been decommissioned, requiring fossil fuel based energy to operate the pumps, but it is well documented that the effect on the ecosystem of the river has been devastating. Multiple species of aquatic life are sucked out of the river in large numbers and killed, on a daily basis. The river acts as a narrow tidal basin, causing extreme bank erosion. The flow of the river is disrupted, leading to inadequate water levels downstream, and a resulting inability of fish to reach critical spawning habitat. Add to this the fact that the facility uses more energy than it creates, it is clearly not, and never was, a source of renewable energy.

Furthermore, FirstLight has demonstrated a clear disregard for not only every living species in the river ecosytem, but also for the people of Massachusetts, by registering Northfield Mountain and Turner’s Falls hydroelectric facilities into Delaware tax shelters, depriving Massachusetts of any tax revenue.

Perhaps by creating a closed loop system, with a reservoir at the bottom of the mountain that is completely separated from the river, and using any excess offshore wind energy to operate the pumps, Northfield Mountain could be a viable energy source going forward. But in its current state, it’s an outdated, dangerous and extremely harmful and wasteful behemoth that should be put to rest.

Document Accession #: 20211228-5066 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Graham Hayward, NORTHFIELD, MA.

I do not want First Light’s bid for re-licensing to be approved. All they’ve done behind benefit of closed doors must be moved out into the light of day and a public forum.

This is one of many matters that won’t “fly” anymore and all those involved will be dealt with, these days of theft are over.
Thank you,
Graham Hayward

Document Accession #: 20211228-5065 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Betsy Corner, Shelburne Falls, MA.
Concerning P-2485 for Northfield Mountain

For the past 50 years I’ve witnessed and read about the damage that the Northfield Mountain Pump Storage facility has caused to the Connecticut River and its inhabitants. Certainly common sense tells us that the kind of system that uses more energy than it produces is antiquated and foolish. It’s clear that relicensing this facility would be done in the financial interests of the owner of the corporation that seems to have power over those who are involved in granting another 50 year long license. Residents of the Connecticut Valley must have a transparent licensing process, not the closed door one that has been on-going. It’s high time to protect the river’s ecology and to look at the big picture of money and politics as it affects all of us in this decision.

Document Accession #: 20211228-5058 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Dave Dersham, Northampton, MA.

I write to you concerning project number P-2485:
The kinetic energy that FirstLight consumes to push the Connecticut river
backwards and up Northfield Mountain, exceeds the potential energy eventually gained.

Simultaneously, 10s of thousands of small fry become pulverized by being
sucked into the hydro electric turbines placed at the midpoint of this
convoluted design. The result is essentially an aquatic Rube Goldberg killing machine, despite the substandard netting placed in the river meant to divert the inexorable fate of the baby fish.

This procedure, which has been going on for decades, is the exact opposite of sustainability both energetically and ecologically ” and needs to
finally stop.

FirstLight does not deserve to be granted another 50 year license.
Thank you for your attention,
Dave Dersham

Document Accession #: 20211228-5048 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Garrett D Connelly, Greenfield, MA.

Hello,
I am writing this request that you revoke First Light’s operation permit for the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility so that you know one more person stands against United States policies that disregard life on Earth and serve only short term profit. And in this case it is a false profit.

FERC employees know short-term profits are small relative to the economic
benefits of a clean and free flowing Connecticut river as well as I do,
probably much better. For this reason I won’t try to fit a list of economic
and environmental benefits from a clean and free flowing river and simply
describe what clear thinking people in the future might do instead.

Visualize a line of pollution sensors across a free flowing river that is so clean it has become a world renowned tourist destination. One of the sensors registers a trace of some cancer inducing chemical and enlightened employees of a future country that cares about life spring into action. Chemical sensors follow the pollution to its source and the activity causing it is stopped and cleaned up.

We all know the energy used by consumer societies is leading to extinction of human life on Earth. The wealth generated by free flowing clean rivers can only happen when energy regulators know how much energy is required by a modern and healthy nation. FERC knows far better than I that the real economy does not require a fake enterprise destroying river life for unreal paper profits so I stop here.

Please think about it from a pro-life perspective and then deny the permit to operate a fake business that destroys real life. Deny the permit that allows operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility.
Sincerely,
Garrett Connelly

Document Accession #: 20211227-5224 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Robert F Porzio, Putney, VT.
Bob Porzio, Putney VT

Dear Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
Please do not grant a new federal license for the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485. This plant has done huge damage to the river for the last half century, reversing flows and killing fish while squandering massive
amount of energy. As a Vermont resident it is unacceptable to allow this machine to kill migrating fish that should be reaching our section of river, but are swallowed by this deadly plant on their upstream and downstream travels. We folks upstream are entitled to a thriving river and a share of its migratory fish.

Thank you,
Robert Porzio
Putney VT

As Connecticut River secrecy-shrouded talks continue, citizens demand an end to Northfield’s half century of devastation

Posted by on 22 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River ecosystem, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Deerfield MA, E-Comments, Extinction, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, Greenfield Recorder, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, pumped storage, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

As secrecy-shrouded Connecticut River licensing talks continue, citizens are standing up to demand an end Northfield’s half century of ecosystem devastation

IN THE PAST THREE DAYS a steady drumbeat of on-the-record calls to end Northfield Mountain’s half century of aquatic carnage, energy waste and ecosystem disruption have been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This speaks volumes about democracy vs. secrecy–and the massive void in leadership, information and environmental enforcement that has been the status quo on this great river for the last 50 years. When there is no watchdog; there is no enforcement.

IN THE FOLLOWING ENTRIES you will find the latest 10 filings by citizens from Foxboro to Amherst, and Northampton, Leeds and Northfield, as well as from Greenfield and Deerfield to Colrain, into the FERC record. All are demanding that no new license be issued allowing the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station to continue savaging our ecosystem.

AFTER reading through that last entry you will find directions for entering on-the-record testimony with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is important that this is done now, as state and federal fish and environmental agencies are currently in FINAL “settlement” negotiations with foreign-registered FirstLight through the end of this month. THEY NEED TO KNOW exactly where you–their constituents, stand on any selling out of our Great River and its aquatic legacy.

* * The following piece, “Last light for New England’s Great River?” appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on 12/22/2021, after originally running in The Greenfield Recorder on Tuesday, 12/21/2021. https://www.gazettenet.com/my-turn-meyer-LastLightCtRiver-44127152

BELOW please find the latest citizen filings with FERC:

UPDATE! This is the ELEVENTH filing, submitted from Stoughton MA early this morning:

Document Accession #: 20211223-5001 Filed Date: 12/23/2021
Steven Wilkinson, Stoughton, MA.

It’s time for F.E.R.C. to fulfill government by, of and for the people, and not the corporations, by stopping the mis-use of our public resources. Restore the Connecticut River’s integrity by ending Northfield’s activities. You owe it to future generations, whose environment and food supply are being adversely impacted by your past decisions. Make it right. Stop this backward company from hurting New England.

Document Accession #: 20211223-5000 Filed Date: 12/23/2021
Amy Rose, Amherst, MA.

Comments on Northfield Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings P-2485
I stand firmly in favor of terminating the license of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. It is an experiment that has failed miserably, and it is time to close it down. In addition to killing 100s of millions of aquatic animals in the CT River every year, this illogical project squanders a massive amount of energy pumping water to the top of a mountain. How
absurd! Protect our beautiful CT River and stop this ridiculous project ASAP.Redirect this energy towards investing in solar arrays on developed areas: rooftops, roads and parking lots.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5071 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Peggy Matthews-Nilsen, Amherst, MA.

Please protect the Connecticut River from the environmental damage that FirstLight’s project will create for decades to come. Please DO NOT relicense FirstLight! Thank you.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5067 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Sigurd Nilsen, Amherst, MA.

Please do not renew FirstLight’s license due to the ecological devastation to the Connecticut River.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5057 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Rebecca Tippens, colrain, MA.

Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings
I am quite upset that the process for deciding whether to renew the license for First Light to renew permission for pumped storage has been less than fully transparent. The Connecticut RIVER is a common resource and it is our obligation to insure its health as well as the beings who live in it. We know we are facing an extinction crisis and the pumped storage method, despite assurances to the contrary, kills millions of fish. First Light’s parent owner has been using all the tricks in the book to hide from both regulators and the public, their financial sleuthing that includes relocating their business to tax havens while, green washing their actions to give donations to local non-profits that represent but fractions of their profits but which they use to bolster their argument that they are indeed a green company.

In fact the process of sucking out water to later drop it to create energy (& dead fish), is massively energy intensive. That they want to continue this killing project for the next twenty plus years is beyond abhorrent. It is a moral and ecological travesty that no one should be supporting.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5050 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Lin Respess, Northampton, MA.

I am writing to encourage you to reject the relicensing of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage station on the Connecticut River. For years, it has been destroying migratory fishes on the river in direct violation of the U.S, Fish & Wildlife Service’s published goals for the river, and to restore passage for migratory American shad, blueback herring, and other species, and requiring providing the public with high quality sport fishing opportunities in a highly urbanized area, as well as to provide for the long-term needs of the population for seafood. Please protect this New England ecosystem for future generations by denying relicensing for FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

With thanks,
Lin & Tucker Respess, Northampton, Massachusetts

Document Accession #: 20211222-5040 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Tanya Dragan, LEEDS, MA.

Hello,
I am gravely concerned about FirstLight and the damage caused by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station on the Connecticut River.

Please do not allow this to continue. Nor continue with the negative impacts they’ve gotten away with for decades. We need to protect future generations.

Do not let their PR/lobbying machine work to ruin the environment.

Regards,
Tanya Dragan
Leeds, MA

Document Accession #: 20211222-5039 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Pamela Scott, Deerfield, MA.

To whom it concerns.. I read with dismay the plans for this hydro electric project to continue. As a concerned citizen, I urge you to reconsider. These activities will have lasting effects that we can’t even comprehend and will affect us far into the future. Please discontinue this project and stop the senseless slaughter of precious wildlife. Thank you very much for your attention to this email.

Document Accession #: 20211221-5154 Filed Date: 12/21/2021
Ron Bartos, FOXBORO, MA.

The operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station facility is highly detrimental to all life in and around the Connecticut River. It kills millions of the river’s aquatic creatures whenever it operates, and causes an unnatural rise and fall, and reverse current, in the river. The license for the project must not be renewed. There are other more economical and ecological ways to generate electricity.

Document Accession #: 20211221-5127 Filed Date: 12/21/2021
James Seretta, Greenfield, MA.

It makes NO SENSE to allow any company to control a resource that in doing so allows them to make money while killing off the ecosystem of the resource. It would be different if there was no harm right?

What’s most bothersome is how it looks like you’re in bed with these guys. What’s in it for you?? Have you bothered to watch these guys sneak around with their shell companies covering their tracks? Did you ever try to figure out why?? Why sell out to a foreign company that has no interest but to make a profit while pilfering the resource of the home community??

It’s time for you guys to do your job and stand up for this incredible resource. Do you hear an outcry that says these corporate folks are doing great things, we love them, sign them up for another 50 years? Of course not because no one wants it. THE HARM OUTWEIGHS THE GOOD!!! DO YOUR JOB!

Document Accession #: 20211220-5002 Filed Date: 12/20/2021
Glen Ayers, Greenfield, MA.

The Northfield Mountain pump-storage facility should be completely decommissioned and the river restored to allow natural flows. No connectionbetween the Northfield Mountain facility and the CT River should be allowed. This river-killing contraption must be eliminated from the river ecosystem. This continuous destruction has been happening for 50-years and it cannot be allowed to kill the river’s aquatic life for another 50.

The time has come to pull the plug on Northfield Mountain, an outdated, obsolete technology that wastes energy, kills fish and other aquatic organisms, and is only operated to enhance the profit of a corporate investment entity that simply does not care about ecology or the river. The people demand that the Government stop this abuse at once. After 50-years of raping the river on a daily basis, it is time to say enough is enough! DO NOT RELICENSE NORTHFIELD MOUNTAIN PUMP STORAGE!!

Fifty years ago this now-obsolete contraption was foisted upon the river aspart of the Vermont Yankee Atomic Nuke Facility in Vernon, VT. That polluting monstrosity has finally been shut down, but is still contaminating the river ecosystem. Northfield Mountain is no longer connected to the Nuke and it should have been shut down at the same time, but the license has expired and it finally must be shuttered so that the river can begin to recover from 50-years of abuse. Ecological science has developed greatly in the past 50-years, and technological advances have replaced this sort of monstrosity with systems that are more efficient, far less harmful, and have barely a fraction of the footprint that the river destroying Northfield Mountain has on the local ecology. This antique belongs in a museum, as an exhibit on bad ideas that were finally eliminated, like DDT, Thalidomide, and Teflon. There is nothing good about Northfield Mountain, it is a curse on the region, and the damage it has done to the river will take decades to heal. River recovery is not possible until this beast is shut down. The river demands that it be freed from the death grip that has been strangling the life out of the CT River for half a century. The abuse must be stopped. NOW!

I implore you to do your job, and find the spine necessary to shut downNorthfield Mountain. To do otherwise would be inhuman and a gross violation of the public trust doctrine. I ask that you reject the application from First Light Power, deny the relicensing, and require that the owner of Northfield Mountain restore the river ecosystem and functioning that has been ruined by their mistreatment of a living system for these past 50-years. The public has spoken loud and clear, we do not consent to treating our river as a pumping machine for the next half century. We Do Not Consent! Shut Down Northfield Mountain! Shut it down.

HELP RESCUE OUR ECOSYSTEM: Here’s how…

Citizens can still get on the public record before any grim deal is signed. 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 use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

The Connecticut River, Extinction Rebellion and its local connections…

Posted by on 03 Nov 2021 | Tagged as: cleanup, climate change, climate-scorching, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Eversource, Extinction, Extinction Rebellion, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC license, FirstLight, Greenfield, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, Natural Gas, New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, NU/WMECO, pumped storage, river cleanup, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Source to Sea Cleanup, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont, Vermont Yankee

The Connecticut River, Extinction Rebellion and its local connections…

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

…to EXTINCTION, EVERSOURCE, CLIMATE, FIRSTLIGHT, CO-2 and the “CONSERVANCY”

ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 6, AT 11:OO a.m., Extinction Rebellion demonstrators will take to the Greenfield Town Common to rally against the ravaging of the climate and the extinction of species through massive extraction and burning of fossil fuels. This comes exactly two weeks after the NO LICENSE TO KILL rally on the Common. That rally demanded FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station not be issued a new decades-long license to continue killing hundreds of millions of fish and aquatic animals annually–while erasing all natural characteristics of a living river and functioning ecosystem in Massachusetts.

Counter to all common sense–and wildly contrary to popular belief, Northfield Mountain is an electricity consumer. It has been running primarily on climate scorching natural gas since its original electric power source–the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, shut down in 2014.

In fact, looking at the sources powering the ISO-New England power grid this morning, November 3, 2021, Northfield has been laying waste to the river on 72% natural gas, another 11% imported nuclear from the CT and NH coasts, and 8% actual hydro (imported from Canada), plus another 8% from actual renewable sources. Thus, for the last SEVEN years since VY closed, this deadly electric machine has been a major source of CO-2 planetary waste and invisible climate destruction.

Northfield is a river-vacuuming electric toilet, parasitically-powering itself directly off the New England power grid to suck the life out of a 20 mile reach of the Connecticut daily, pulling it backward and uphill to a 4 billion gallon reservoir. That lifeless water is later released in thundering morning and afternoon pulses to become brief, peak-priced, second-hand electricity sold to us ratepayers as their deadly-profitable river offering.

Northfield is not what any thinking person would ever define as HYDRO POWER. Even the industry keeps it in a separate category–as it is actually a net-loss electric glutton that appears in negative percentages on the daily power grid. Nor can its deadly output ever be labeled “clean” or “renewable” energy, despite clever industry marketing.

So, when Extinction Rebellion appears on the Greenfield Common on Saturday–two weeks after the No License to Kill rally against FirstLight-Northfield, it bears pointing out that they will be assembling just yards away from the Connecticut River Watershed Council, today doing business as the Connecticut River Conservancy.


Connecticut River Conservancy’s HQ, adjacent to the Greenfield Common. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Just six weeks back the “Conservancy” had their 25th Source to Sea Cleanup—majorly and annually funded by none other than WMECO/Northeast Utilities–today doing business as Eversource. It was WMECO/NU that actually built FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain–the drop-dead, deadliest machine that continues operating today on an extended Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license (one that expired in 2018), right in the midst of the Connecticut River S.O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish & Wildlife Refuge and the platitudinous Connecticut River National Blueway here in Massachusetts. Lacking a real river watchdog and any enforcement of existing environmental law…those designations mean absolutely NOTHING.

Yesterday, November 2nd at polling booths in East Boston, citizens overwhelmingly voted to prevent Eversource from building a new natural gas pipeline in their city, citing climate impacts and lack of necessity. You see Eversource–the Conservancy/Watershed Council’s BFF for ages, is today a major natural gas company, having taken over Columbia Gas—famous for their pipeline explosions in Lawrence, and, just a few years back in Springfield MA, with its own major gas explosion, right downtown.

The Conservancy/Council’s ole buddy Eversource/WMECO/NU–through its long history of deep-pockets-funding and CRC Board memberships, is now planning to build a new natural gas pipeline extension through Longmeadow and into Springfield. It is another grim push toward a critically baking planet—one that Eversource expects to charge ratepayers $33 million to put in place. Currently, the City of Springfield has demands out for the accruing years and some $44 million in back taxes it says Eversource has not paid. Springfield citizens are now pushing back on the giving Eversource yet another free pass through town. Both East Boston and Springfield have long histories of community racial, economic and environmental injustice. This new natural gas monopoly angling appears to continue that legacy.


Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

So, No License to Kill, Extinction Rebellion, and a whole lot of people in Western Massachusetts and New England have plenty of reason to gather on the Greenfield Common on Saturday. There is injustice aplenty, green-washed and collaborated on between Eversource-NU-WMECO, FirstLight, the Conservancy, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the byzantine natural gas consortium… all of which all circle back to Eversource and its green-washing “friends”…

Did you help with CRC’s (EVER)Source to Sea Cleanup this September?? The Conservancy and FirstLight employees actually made a clever video together…
Now that’s collaboration!

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

Still with headquarters in Hartford, below is a CT list of their largely invisible holding and affiliate companies, etc–though their Columbia Gas ownership does not show up here:

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

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

CONNECTICUT RIVER DEFENSE EVENTS Ramp up before this Saturday’s “No License to Kill” Rally on the GREENFIELD TOWN COMMON

Posted by on 19 Oct 2021 | Tagged as: Andrew Fisk, Connecticut River ecosystem, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight Power, fish kill, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, Kathleen Theoharides, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Mr. Caleb Slater, Mr. Charles Baker, Mr. Gordon van Welie, Mr. Jesse Leddick, Mr. Mark S. Tisa, Ms. Donna Wieting, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, pumped storage, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Wendi Weber

Connecticut River Defense Events Ramp up before this Saturday’s “No License to Kill” Rally on the GREENFIELD COMMON at 11 a.m.

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

It is inspiring to witness the strength and commitment of citizens rising to defend the Connecticut River against any Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing of Canadian-owned FirstLight Power’s massive lethal daily suctioning at Northfield Mountain. READ BELOW! These people are saying NO to a license for Northfield Mountain, NO to licensing the virtual obliteration of all natural characteristics of a living Connecticut River in Massachusetts—the critical artery at the center of the 4-state Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish & Wildlife Refuge; NO to Northfield Mountain, FirstLight’s river-killing, energy-sucking cash cow.

All THIS, ahead of Saturday’s 11 a.m. RALLY on the Greenfield Town Common against the secret talks between Canada’s FirstLight and US Fish & Wildlife, MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, MA Department of Environmental Protection to auction off the life of an ecosystem that belongs to FUTURE GENERATIONS.

Again, this Saturday, October 23, 11-noon, on the Greenfield Town Common: NO FIRSTLIGHT/NORTHFIELD FERC LICENSE TO KILL! Rally.

From The Recorder from Susan Olmsted, this great piece:
https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-olmstead-FirstLightMethodAffectsCTRiver-42975815

Also airing TODAY at 6 pm, and repeating on the EnviroShow on Valley Free Radio—or anytime with the second link below, I speak with Don Ogden (d.o.) and Glen Ayers about “river-cide”
https://envirosho.blogspot.com/
https://archive.org/details/ct-river-enviro-show-interview-with-karl-meyer-10-14-21

AND ON THURSDAY, at 7 pm, I will give a Zoom talk entitled “LIVING RIVERS FLOW DOWNSTREAM” with the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library.
Please join in by requesting a link by emailing: librarian@greenfieldpubliclibrary.org

juvenile Connecticut River American shad, dead

Do share this with your local leaders and representatives. Where do they stand? Will they attend??

The FOLLOWING OFFICIALS need to understand they have NO RIGHT to bargain away the life of OUR CHILDREN’s ECOSYSTEM. This is THEIR WATCH. They have a PUBLIC TRUST to defend against Connecticut River Extinction and a 40 year river death sentence here in Massachusetts:

Ms.Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary, MA Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs
Mr. Charles Baker, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Mr. Andy Fisk, MA Public Representative, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Dir. Connecticut River Conservancy
Mr. Gordon van Welie, President and CEO, ISO-New England
Ms. Wendi Weber, US Fish & Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director
Ms. Donna Wieting Director of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service
Mr. Mark S. Tisa, Director of the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Mr. Caleb Slater, MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife, Anadromous Fish Project Leader CRASC
Mr. Jesse Leddick, Chief of Regulatory Review
MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife

Connecticut River blog: Connecticut River stand up September 18

Posted by on 16 Sep 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, Buz Eisenberg, Clean Water Act, cleanup, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, ESA, fish kill on the Connecticut, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, pumped storage, river cleanup, shad larvae, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Recorder, Turner Falls Canal annual draining, WHMP

WHY anyone might choose stand out on the Turners Falls Gill-Montague Bridge over the Connecticut River on Saturday, September 18, 2021, 11 a.m – noon… * ALSO, new WHMP interview with Buz Eisenberg linked below *

dead juvenile Connecticut River shad… Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

PICTURED ABOVE are dead juvenile America shad–easily 150 of them. These are Connecticut River migratory fish that had been lucky enough to escape the treachery of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, just seven miles upriver. There, annually, it’s killer death toll for juvenile shad alone can hit the 2 million mark. So picture a scene like the one above, but multiply it by 100,000 or 200,000, and you start to get a picture of the invisible slaughter that’s never been cleaned up on the Connecticut. Sadly, these hapless juveniles were on their way to the sea when they met their demise in the Turners Falls Power Canal. They died just 300 yards from the dissolving riverbanks of the actual Connecticut River and the desecrated spawning habitat of the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. Yet more responsibilities and laws flaunted and ignored.

NOTE:There are crucial times when the public has to do the job left undone for a half century after the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act became the law of the land on the Connecticut River. It’s a half dead river carcass in so many ways–a watercourse that does not even meet the definition of a living river in Massachusetts.

Just ask yourself: ON WHOSE WATCH DID THIS OCCUR??

This is a river that’s gone 50 years without a defender. A four-state US Fish & Wildlife Refuge without a single full-time, or part-time staff lawyer dedicated to its daily defense for half a century. The federal and state agencies responsible failed to protect it–and no one held their feet to the fire.

That’s how rivers die. They wither for decades under umbrella organizations that shun and deflect the bedrock necessity to accept a MISSION mandate to INVESTIGATE, ENFORCE and PROSECUTE.

We have a textbook case here:
Where there is no WATCHDOG,there is no ENFORCEMENT.

That’s why someone might choose to stand up for their river on the Turners Falls Bridge on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 11:00. It’s because NO RIVER SHOULD DIE IN THE DARK.

LINKS BELOW:
https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-meyer-StandUpforNERiver-42357321

https://whmp.com/podcasts/the-afternoon-buzz-9-16-21/

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE NOW:

If you think the Connecticut River ecosystem should be survivable for fish and aquatic animals in all four states–and that New England’s River should meet the basic definition of a living river in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts… Then, DEMAND of these agencies and officials that any new FERC license for the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station (FERC Project # 2485) meet all the requirements of the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, and all state and federal wetlands protection laws—for the Connecticut River, including safe fish passage mandated in the 1872 Supreme Court decision Holyoke Company v. Lyman. Make them hear you. Name names. Demand the cleanup of a river left comatose for half a century. It is OWED to coming generations.

(*Lots of relicensing and river information and issues notes at www.karlmeyerwriting.com/blog/ )

HERE ARE THE AGENCIES AND NAMES of those responsible for protecting the river ecosystem for future generations. Name them. Write them, then forward that letter to your Congress person and state representative–as well as the local paper. Name names. Let them know you are watching and expect them to do their duty. Finally, send your notes to FERC, using www.ferc.gov. Go to E-comments, make sure you give your name and address and specifically mention “Northfield Mountain, P-2485” when you write. That is the FERC docket number, and it’s required. BUT, mostly, say their names in public–they are working for us. IT WILL BE THEIR LEGACY TOO

ENERGY executives in the private/quasi-public sphere:

Mr. Gordon van Welie, President and CEO, ISO-New England, the “independent” system operator: Phone (413) 540-4220

Mr. Peter Brandien, Vice President of System Operations, ISO-New England:
E-mail: pbrandien@iso-ne.com. NOTE: Mr. Brandien writes the annual support letter that facilitates the daily commercial damage to the Connecticut wrought by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project.

FEDERAL PUBLIC officials:

For endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, freshwater mussels, as well as American shad, blueback herring and American eel: Ms. Donna Wieting, Director of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Fisheries: Phone: 301-427-8400

Also, for endangered shortnose sturgeon, as well as American shad, blueback herring and American eels: Mr. Sean Mcdermott, Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, MA 01930:
E-mail: Sean.mcdermott@noaa.gov

Also at NMFS, protecting shortnose sturgeon and their habitat: Ms. Julie Crocker, Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, MA 01930:
E-mail: Julie.crocker@noaa.gov

For federal protection and enforcement of the Clean Water Act on the Connecticut River:
Mr. Timothy L. Timmermann Office of Environmental Review, EPA New England Region 1, Boston MA 02109-3912:
E-mail: timmermann.timothy@epa.gov

For all migratory fish and safe passage on the river including American shad, herring, and endangered sturgeon:
Ms. Wendi Weber, US Fish & Wildlife Service Region 5, Hadley MA 01035: E-mail: wendi_weber@usfws.gov

MASSACHUSETTS state officials:

Ms. Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary of the MA Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs 100 Cambridge St., Suite 900, Boston, MA 02114:
Main Phone at (617) 626-1000

For Massachusetts clean water and wetland habitat protections on the Connecticut:
Mr. Brian Harrington, Bureau of Water Resources Deputy Regional Director, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 436 Dwight Street, Springfield MA 01103:
E-mail: Brian.d.harrington@state.ma.us

Also from MA DEP: Mr. David Cameron, PWS Section Chief, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 436 Dwight St., Springfield, MA 01103:
E-mail: David.cameron@state.ma.us

For state-endangered shortnose sturgeon and all Connecticut River migratory fish in MA:
Mr. Jesse Leddick, Chief of Regulatory Review, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd., Westborough MA 01581:
E-mail: Jesse.Leddick@mass.gov

Also at MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife: Mr. Steven Mattocks, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd., Westborough MA 01581:
E-mail: steven.mattocks.@mass.gov

Connecticut River: not clean; not healthy–it’s this river refuge’s hall of shame in MA

Posted by on 17 Jun 2021 | Tagged as: Andrew Fisk, climate change, climate-heating, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRC, Dead Reach, Delaware LLC, Dr. Boyd Kynard, ecosystem, ESA, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight Power, fish passage, ISO, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, LLC, Micah Kieffer, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Public Sector Pension Investments, pumped storage, Rock Dam, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, USFWS, Vermont, water lab

Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


June 15, 2021, the baking, dewatered Rock Dam cobbles at the shortnose sturgeon nursery, where early life stage sturgeon should find watery shelter. This is DEAD, critical habitat. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

For a fourth season beyond the date (4/30/2018)Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investments FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license expired to operate their FirstLight Power, river-ravaging Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage project and river-starving Turners Falls/Cabot Station power canal diversions out of the main stem river, conditions for fish and a living river ecosystem have again proven grimly dismal. Conditions last weekend in the 20 mile reach backed up for NMPS’s river-gorging behind TF dam got so ugly there was not even water to launch a boat just a half mile above the dam at the state boat launch. See Ch. 22 link below.

https://www.wwlp.com/news/local-news/franklin-county/low-water-levels-for-parts-of-connecticut-river-in-franklin-county/

Without a watchdog and a lawyer with an injunction at the ready, that’s just what you come to expect here. Insanity is witnessing the same lack of enforcement and leadership languishing, year-in, year-out, and expecting different results.


Migration season spill to the actual riverbed amounts to little more than a pan of dishwater–for fish seeking an upstream route to Vermont and New Hampshire. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The most interesting statements on the situation did not come from any of the agencies or the ngo laying claim to safeguarding this massively abused reach, but from PSP’s FirstLight Power–now re-registered out of the Bay State as a Delaware llc. Here, in their press statement they actually felt quite comfortable pointing to ISO-New England in Holyoke–the “electric grid operator,” as the responsible party for choking the life out of the Connecticut in Franklin County–right in the midst of key spring spawning when development of early life stages are critical to restoring beleaguered runs of migratory fish. READ FL statement BELOW:

“Over the weekend water levels in the area of Barton Cove were exceptionally shallow due to several overlapping conditions affecting water levels in the Turners Falls Impoundment.These factors included dispatch of our facility by the electric grid operator at the same time we were spilling water over the Turners Falls dam to meet federally required flows to support fish passage. These conditions are all within the approved and licensed operation of the facilities, however, coupled with lower than usual flows in the river, the water levels dropped to an unusually low level in this instance.”

ISO-New England and PSP/FirstLight are like corporate kissing cousins–in a grim Bermuda Triangle where the river disappears. That triangle goes from Northfield/Turners Falls through Holyoke, thence down to Delaware for tax-dollar cleaning; and then way back north to Canada for profit-taking. OOOPPS, I guess that makes it a Bermuda RECTANGLE!

Anyway, hard to reconcile those grim, pillaging river conditions with any massive requirement for huge amounts of power… It was simply a gorgeous June weekend–no giant peak power use or anything in the way of summer heatwave stuff going on. Could it be that our ecosystem was being massively thrown under the bus purely for profit taking? Or, was ISO-NE exporting our river–ravaged for its megawatts, far outside our region? Did the Connecticut get pillaged for use in the New York power grid? It’s just a scam, wrapped in a riddle, with no media scrutiny permitted.

Here, though, I must extend a prize for BS to FirstLight’s PR people who blame, in part, the fact that they “were spilling water over the Turners Falls dam to meet federally required flows to support fish passage.” Their sole and absurdly “required” offering of spill into the riverbed for migrating fish is 400 cubic feet per second in fish passage season. That’s the equivalent of a dishpan’s worth of water, when a swimming pool’s worth is the minimum required to restore a living ecosystem below the Turners Falls dam. These communications people are high paid, and they are so good when you have an uninformed public.

MEANWHILE, I visited that DEAD REACH below TF Dam on Monday. The Rock Dam, the only documented natural spawning site of the only federally-endangered migratory fish on the Connecticut in Massachusetts. For endangered shortnose sturgeon in Franklin County, just yards away from the Conte Fish Lab, and just across the river from the home of the Connecticut River Conservancy, it was just another de-watered, failing riverbanks day. Baking cobbles, blood-orange sludge drooling down failing banks and entering the Connecticut as slurry. Months back Andy Fisk of CRC–with its own in-house water lab, definitively told the media he would not sample that grim soup. I guess if you sample and find a problem, people would expect action.


June 15, 2021: here are the blood-orange, buckling Connecticut River banks sloughing directly into the Rock Dam pool. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


The sludge outlet into Rock Dam. The sturgeon bakery-beach cobbles are in the background, right–that little tongue of dead water is the CT River’s “flow”. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The Rock Dam pool, as some of this river’s most critically endangered habitat, was exhaustively investigated by Conte Lab’s Dr. Boyd Kynard and his assistant Micah Kieffer, for 17 straight seasons. Yet today, in the midst of critical relicensing times, Conte Lab does not even set out a basic water-level data loggers–which would at the very least, offer annual data during the critical spawning months of April through June on flows, depth and temperature. That would at least tell you on what particular date and time. and at what water temperature the dam and headgate operators upstream inside FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain shut off the spigot at Turners Falls dam, sending their grim pumped storage surges sideways into their canal and screwing another sturgeon spawning season at this ancient nursery site for endangered fish trying to hold their place in the ecosystem.

I personally paid for and installed a data logger at Rock Dam a half decade back–though I could not have got it done without the quiet and prodigious help and expertise of a leading sturgeon biologist and investigator. The results were incontrovertible and damning. They got forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the lead agency on sturgeon protection, and USFWS. No action was ever taken.

I also intervened with FERC vs. FirstLight for dewatering Rock Dam three spawning seasons back–citing violation of the ESA in the face of the KNOWN presence of spawning sturgeon there. My argument, which did result in a FERC hearing in Washington DC, was made on the basis that FirstLight violated their license requirement to coordinate operations of their Northfield and TF facilities, which also includes adherence to the tenets of “takings” under the Endangered Species Act. FERC tossed out the my arguments on inscrutable grounds, but I at least stood up.

If I had a federal lab this season–or for ten seasons past, I would have protected that shortnose nursery just 300 yards away and right under my nose at my federal lab. That’s “Science for a Changing World.” And if I had a water testing lab at my facility, the first thing I would have done is take that water sample–just to be sure. This year, or last year–because that’s what real river protection means.

Clean water;healthy habitats in Franklin County Massachusetts? I think not. Massachusetts is where the Connecticut River ecosystem dies; and the profits fly out of the region. Special thanks to PSP Investments, your neighbor since 2016, and ISO-New England, your bulk power corporate facilitator.

OHHHHH, OOOOHHH! And please don’t forget, every time Len Greene from FirstLight, or Alicia Barton leaves you walking away from some press release somehow thinking that Northfield Mountain is producing ‘clean’, ‘carbon free’ energy?–do note that Northfield is a huge energy CONSUMER that has never produced a single watt of virgin power. In reality it is running off the massive slugs of carbon gorging/planet warming natural gas that today powers the ISO-New England Power grid. In recent days, without any heat wave in sight, their energy “mix” that is massively pulled on for NMPS’s river killing has exceeded 60% natural gas at times. There is everything deadly, and little benign, about what Northfield has done to the Connecticut these last 49 years–or what it will do in the future.

Finally, the thing to note and remember about the Connecticut River across all these decades:

WHERE THERE IS NO WATCHDOG, THERE IS NO ENFORCEMENT.

There is no watchdog protecting this river.

A Connecticut River return to the bad old days?

Posted by on 18 Oct 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Cabot Woods, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River riverbank failure, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Eversource, Farmington River, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, Greenfield Community College, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, pumped storage, Relicensing, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, Society of Environmental Journalists, Source to Sea Cleanup, The Recorder, The Revelator, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vermont Digger, Vernon Dam Fishway

The riverbanks at Rock Dam
Photo
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Note: the following piece appeared recently in VTDigger, www.vtdigger.org, https://vtdigger.org/2020/10/18/karl-meyer-a-connecticut-river-return-to-the-bad-old-days/ and in the The Recorder, www.recorder.com, (no story link posted)

                        A Connecticut River return to the bad old days?

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All rights reserved

On September 1st, FirstLight Power petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 3rd delay in submitting final license applications to run Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and their Turners Falls hydro sites in Massachusetts. In a process now in its 9th year, the Canadian-owned company wants 4 more months to restudy NMPS’s water release impacts on endangered tiger beetles 30 miles downstream. It was bad news capping a dismal year for a Connecticut River that’s not seen any semblance of natural flows in the Bay State for half a century.

Despite recent on-air, print and social media stories of cleanup heroism, secret swimming holes, baby lamprey rescue and adult lamprey barbecues, our river seems headed back toward its time as “the nation’s best landscaped sewer.”

In August hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage overflows enter its main stem, fouling it from Springfield to Middletown CT. In June, for the second time in a year, toxic PFAS entered waterways at Bradley Airport triggering fish consumption warnings and menacing water supplies on the Farmington all the way to its meeting with the Connecticut. A year ago–almost exactly 19 years after a factory spill killed thousands of North River fish, that grizzly Colrain kill was replicated when sulfuric acid again flowed from that site into that same tributary. 

In Vermont this year structural problems at Vernon Dam likely led to the big downturn in American shad reaching central New England. At Vernon this spring structural problems at that fishway likely led to the big downturn in American shad passing upstream there to central New England. The partial blockage might have been caught–and repaired, had two students downriver at Greenfield Community College fulfilled their weekly fish counting obligations. Important tallying, via downloaded video, just didn’t happen–leaving the problem at Vernon Dam undetected for a full migration season.

Meanwhile in Turners Falls riverbanks were collapsing—some oozing grim puss that’s leaching to the most endangered habitat in the ecosystem. The Rock Dam is an in-river ledge that’s provided refuge to federally endangered shortnose sturgeon for centuries. It’s their sole documented natural spawning site. Pink-orange slurry has been flushing from the banks there for a year–running into the river’s cobble bed where early life stage sturgeon shelter and develop.

A red slurry enters the Connecticut at the Rock Dam
Photo
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Visitors to the river at Rock Dam off “Migratory Way” in Cabot Woods will see a 30 foot hemlock and saplings being eaten by a sinkhole now big enough for a Mini-Cooper. Banks there slump to a series of nasty, yards-wide, gashes—one with a dumped tire in its center. Slime squeezing from them sloughs in weeping riverlets that flow the final few yards to the river’s sturgeon nursery as a rusty precipitate of oxidizing iron, manganese and other unknown agents. In a drought year, the adjacent muck-choked canal is clearly the destabilizing water source.

Upriver failing FirstLight banks are threatening Millers Falls Road and houses on a buff there. Pipe failure is said to be a culprit. The town made expensive repairs, dumping rubble on that hillside at a sharp river curve called The Narrows. Failures at such nearby sites might merit closer examination. The Narrows is where current pushes against the outer riverbanks–a classic place for surging water to create erosional impact. Northfield Mountain creates big suck-and-surge cycles just 4 miles upstream–sending down powerful pulses that cause daily 3 foot “tides” at Turners Falls Dam. Some can reach 9 feet.

NMPS was completed in 1972 by Northeast Utilities. Rebranded as Eversource and now expanding into natural gas, they are still New England’s grid monopoly and perennial major sponsor of the Source to Sea Cleanup. NMPS is a now 48 year-old FirstLight holding, but still sending its surges down the Narrows to that dam. There, they get shunted into the power canal, ultimately exerting pressure against its massively muck-choked outer bank–adjacent and just 400 feet from those dissolving banks at Rock Dam. Ironically, any flow the canal can’t swallow gets flushed over the dam in channel-ramping surges to the starved, oft-empty riverbed below. That parch-and-flood cycle further impacts Rock Dam’s shores; then heads to endangered Puritan tiger beetle habitat 30 miles away.

The muck-choked outer bank of the drawn-down Turner Falls power canal on Sept. 14, 2020 Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

The US Geological Survey’s Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center sits 250 yards from Rock Dam. Shortnose sturgeon and their critical Rock Dam pool were extensively studied by their researchers there for decades. Now debased and failing, it is ignored. What about the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act? That lab sits on a bank opposite Greenfield, home to the 68 year-old, recently-rebranded Connecticut River Conservancy. Why isn’t CRC testing that Rock Dam slurry at their water lab? Have they sent any slime samples out for analysis? Where’s their Streambank Erosion Committee? Why would a federal lab abandon the long-term endangered species research site at its door?

As self-described champions of “Science for a Changing World” and “Healthy habitats,” neither has steered a reporter or video crew to that elephant in the room. Perhaps it’s their admission of powerlessness. CRC, dependent on various federal and state fish and environmental agencies for grant monies won’t likely be calling out their failures anytime soon. They have no enforcement mandate and employ no staff lawyers. Thus they never challenge the big dogs, and power companies know it.

If a river could talk I think it would say cleanups look nice, but they won’t save rivers. That requires an unencumbered 21st century organization—one with lawyers and an enforcement mandate corporations can’t ignore.

ENDGAME LOOMS FOR NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rivers should not die in the dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Salmon, a River Without Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A River Run in Reverse

What’s ultimately at issue here is flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Run Stops in Massachusetts.

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

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

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

Why the Restoration Failed

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

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

The Prescription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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