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CONNECTICUT RIVER BLOG: DISMAL SPAWNING SEASON ON THIS UNPROTECTED RIVER IN MASSACHUSETTS

Posted by on 05 Jul 2021 | Tagged as: blueback herring, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, CRASC, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, FirstLight Power, John McPhee, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Rock Dam, shortnose sturgeon, The Dead Reach, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont

Connecticut River Blog: dismal spawning season on this unprotected river in Massachusetts Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

*American shad run lowest since 2010
* 2021 shortnose sturgeon passage will likely be the worst at Holyoke in the half decade since it’s lifts were modified to restore the population and allow spawning in critical upstream nursery habitat.

The spillway fish lift and attraction water at Holyoke Dam, June 2, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The migratory fish run on the Connecticut River is done for the season. No one should be celebrating. At Holyoke Dam fish passage was the lowest it’s been in over a decade, with just 238,000 American shad counted passing that site. Seesawing spring flows that at first saw little April rain to fill river channels then quickly ramped up as May was ushered, creating big attraction flow for shad seeking upstream access via the Holyoke lifts.

But for 10 days, beginning April 30th, no lifts ran at Holyoke. HG&E won’t run lifts with flows above 40,000 cubic feet per second, so those shad had to hold there in the currents of a quickly cooling-down river for over a week. Then, as the flows ebbed to lift-able levels they were again left stranded and burning energy for extra days—as turbidity protocols from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) won’t allow awaiting fish runs to be helped upstream because they might miss tallying a single endangered shortnose sturgeon in the murky waters. Does this make sense–even for the sturgeon, or any of this ecosystem’s migrants?

In a time of climate heating chaos, this will only happen more often. Here’s a quick sketch of that migration dead-stop from USFWS Project Leader Ken Sprankle, who works to get regular fish passage updates out to the public: “Sierra at HFL(Holyoke Fish Lift) reported operations since the 4/30 closure did not resume until 5/10, with last weekend through 5/10 impacted by very turbid conditions that did not allow lift operations (sturgeon management factor).”

The parched riverbed in front of Holyoke Dam on June 2, 2021. The usual spring peak for shad runs occurs in late May. For 10 days in early May no lifts operated… Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

At first this might seem understandable—this abundance of caution while holding up thousands of other fish, except that the NMFS is doing literally NOTHING to protect and document shortnose sturgeon spawning success upstream at their critical Rock Dam site, and at a default industrial spawning site below Cabot Station’s ramping outflows. The whole purpose of fish lifts is to come into compliance with the Holyoke Company v. Lyman, landmark 1872 US Supreme Court decision, guaranteeing safe upstream and downstream passage at all dams.

So why hold up ANY fish—including shortnose sturgeon, in merely turbid early season conditions, when the purpose is to make sure all migrants can access upstream spawning habitat? To me, it’s disingenuous to implement a policy that seems more about data collection and missing a sturgeon or three—delaying and holding back runs of SNS and all other fish, when you are not doing a thing to ensure that those few endangered sturgeon have habitat and flow to successfully spawn. Are there any priorities that really put fish and protection first here?

As was noted at a June 24th meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, US Geological Survey sturgeon biologist Micah Kieffer did virtually no work at the Rock Dam, the only documented natural spawning site for shortnose sturgeon in this river system that he helped confirm while working for decades with Dr. Boyd Kynard. Not a single bit of investigation or a gill or egg nets set to see about spawning success—just 250 yards from the Conte Lab where Kieffer works. It appears looking after sturgeon is important everywhere BUT the place where they need protection in order to successfully reproduce.

Micah Kieffer spent a good chunk of this season looking for ghost shortnose sturgeon and chasing fish stories far upstream from their critical habitat all the way to Bellows Falls–which proved as fruitful as finding the Loch Ness Monster. Last year, the emphasis was again chasing ghosting fish upriver that were never found. It has now been three seasons since I begged and badgered Micah to take a receiver down to Rock Dam, just a literal stone’s throw away from Conte Lab. After he took me up on that single visit he ultimately ended up documenting 48 SNS present at their ancient site–the largest spawning aggregation ever recorded there across decades of investigation. The fish were there several more days–that is until Canada-owned FirstLight Power cut off the flows—interfering with the spawning of a US federally endangered species.

De-watered critical sturgeon spawning and nursery habitat at Rock Dam, May 16, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

There were likely no suitable conditions allowing SNS spawning and rearing at their Rock Dam nursery again this year. I documented that in my photos of their sheltering cobbles baking in the sizzling June sun. So, so much for anyone protecting endangered fish or habitat. When there is no watchdog, there is no enforcement.

One big reveal at the June CRASC Technical Committee meeting was much-touted news that shortnose sturgeon eggs were recovered below Holyoke Dam. Here’s that event, put down in USFWS’s Fish Passage Report from Ken Sprankle on June 30th: “Some important fisheries news was shared at the CRASC Tech when CTDEEP confirmed they had sampled Shortnose Sturgeon eggs in habitat immediately downstream of the Holyoke Dam. Eighty eggs were collected in a sampling bout using egg mats with genetic confirmation, the first documentation of spawning outside of the Rock Dam and Cabot Station shoal, Turners Falls.” But this was really nothing new. Some minor spawning activity has long been known to occur below that industrial site where sturgeon were blocked from accessing their upstream habitat for well over a century.

Chapter 2 in Life History and Behavior of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, 2012, published by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society (a chapter authored by B. Kynard, M. Kieffer, B.E. Kynard, M. Burlingame, and P. Vinogradov) states that spawning activity has been documented, understood and accepted since the late 1990’s in the area below Holyoke Dam. This is the place where sturgeon had forever been trapped in a spawning cull de sac—more or less since the first dam there was completed in 1849. So, though it is some new data, it does nothing to protect the SNS’s critical upstream spawning site–or the broken river ecosystem at Turners Falls and well beyond.

More CRASC hubbub was created when it was noted that professional divers looking for yellow lamp mussels stumbled on several dozen young-of-the-year shortnose sturgeon and took videos of them at a major in-river construction site in Springfield. Ironic that those divers were not sturgeon researchers… The big excitement was the cute video of baby fish. But it seems the ‘discovery’ was more a celebration of a random technological happenstance than progress in safeguarding this season’s sturgeon spawning run and success.

Anglers in a motorized raft in fragile Rock Dam habitat May 25, 2021 Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Here’s just one other twisted shortnose sturgeon kicker: those motivated, early-spring spawning-run shortnose sturgeon that get rejected at Holyoke’s lifts in that April-to-late May spawning window because of high flow or the dreaded “turbidity”, are denied a season’s spawning opportunity at their critical upstream Rock Dam site. But this July a new circumstance has been implemented that could help deny more up-running SNS a shot at successful spawning NEXT year!

For Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon there’s actually a bigger, seasonal early-SUMMER migration peak. It’s an upstream push for shortnose sturgeon attempting to find their way past Holyoke Dam. It occurs at the beginning of July and peaks soon thereafter. This is thought to be a “staging” migration for spawning-age fish–for sturgeon moving upriver to prepare to spawn the following year.

However, this year HG&E decided that maintenance on the fish lifts was overdue, and the federal agencies gave the okay for Holyoke Gas & Electric to shut down its lifts beginning July 1st–keeping them off-line for up to three months. Most sturgeon get lifted at Holyoke in July. Delaying those lift closures by just two weeks could have allowed a significant chunk of that critical SNS run to pass upstream. So much for ESA protections…

The average upstream count at Holyoke these last 5 years has been 58 shortnose sturgeon lifted. This year’s count stands at a paltry 11 fish. Thus, it’s pretty much guaranteed it will be a dismal year for passage upstream to critical habitats—Holyoke Company v. Lyman and all those endangered fish be damned!

There was one … tiny ray of hope noted at the June CRASC meeting. After two years of my reporting and intervening on behalf of the buckling banks, sink holes and grim discharge from the failing Connecticut River banks at Rock Dam, Ken Sprankle has been the sole fisheries person to take note. He actually proposed action. The Connecticut River Conservancy, with their water lab, refused to do testing there, and there was no action whatsoever from the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee. On a river with a watchdog pressure would have been applied to force the National Marine Fisheries or MA DEP to take action on the failing riverbanks—which are the responsibility of FirstLight. Or, more to the point, a watchdog could have gone straight after the corporation. But no one to stepped up in that role. Because there is no watchdog here.

Rock Dam raft runners on May 29, 2019.

However, the USFWS’s Ken Spankle did get a study proposal put together that could potentially document the common-sense linkage of those crumbling banks to the Turners Falls power canal–just 150 feet away, as possible culprit and source of the bank failures and habitat pollution. Isn’t this ultimately a potential TF canal failure—the DIVERTED Connecticut River trying to return to its own riverbed less than 200 feet distant? This–on a protected river, would seem a slam dunk to document during a critical time when a new license for decades to come is in the offing. I raised these issues again in questions to the CRASC in their on-line meeting.

Rafters invade fragile Rawson Island at the Rock Dam site to lug their boat upstream for another tilt at Rock Dam’s tiny rapid, May 29, 2019.

Ken Sprankle needs just $131,000 to get the study done–at a time when a $100-million-plus foreign corporation is seeking to run our river here for decades. But he’s found he can’t find the money amongst and between all these federal and state agencies that would enable it to go forward.

You’d think all of CRASC member agencies would be falling all over themselves to chip in and get this critical information—especially since it was their forebears who ruined an easily restorable fish passage prospect at Turners Falls Dam in the mid-1970s. They did this by turning their backs on constructing a simple fish ladder there. That ruined prospects for a true Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration for hundreds of thousands of American shad and blueback herring to VT, NH, and northern MA each spring for a full half century.

BTW, in the name of further explanation of the above: the predecessor and immediate precursor of CRASC, is the fed/state fisheries cooperative that—in 1969, turned what should have been an CT River fisheries restoration project into a 43 year odyssey that put the river’s long extinct salmon strain (since 1809) at the top of Connecticut River species restoration pyramid, stumbling right past the needs of American shad and blueback herring. These same two federal agencies and four states signed off on the wretched, river-emptied, three-ladder fish passage based on salmon at this Dead Reach in Turners Falls. That has left this river system broken from mile 122 all the way upstream into southern Vermont and New Hampshire.

Their decision at Turner Falls for fish passage essentially killed a true river restoration when that ladder system was completed in 1980. VT, NH and northern MA never saw a fraction of their promised runs of American shad and herring. CRASC’s current chairperson, Andy Fisk of the Connecticut River Conservancy recently described shad as “lazy” in an interview with the Springfield Republican. I think those shad–as well as John McPhee, would agree American shad deserve a better spokesperson.

Failing Connecticut River banks at Rock Dam, June 15, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

I do credit Ken Sprankle, who is extremely busy, for making that pitch and getting a study plan put together. This is a Massachusetts problem—home of the broken Connecticut River, and all those present here should find it shameful. The study would take two seasons. But time is tight for it to have any merit in terms of licensing, and this is a river bureaucracy bathed in INACTION.

In a time when the Dead Reach of the Connecticut has been left half-dead and de-watered at the fragile and failing Rock Dam reach for over half a century, you might think the first priority there would be protection and letting this critical patient have a chance to finally begin to heal. Thus it seems rather ironic and no less a bit dangerous that the Connecticut River Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Club, American Whitewater and other groups will be doing a big PR push in mid-July to bring more joyriding traffic through the fragile Rock Dam site–which has any number of legitimate critical preservation needs and designations.

A campsite and someone living on the south end of Rawson Island opposite the Rock Dam pool on July 4, 2021. Does this critical habitat merit protection, or merely a flood of new visitors… Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

What seems sure to absolutely create more damage and dishonor at this place are crowds jamming downstream to run the single tiny Rock Dam rapid. Many of us have witnessed the ugly traffic jams and trash sites on the Deerfield River. What will happen when crowds descend on this critical area? Does CRC have a plan to protect this habitat? Will they pay for police and search and rescue operations? Will the AMC? Or does the Town of Montague get stuck with the problem and the bill in this tiny backwater so critical to a restored ecosystem?

Perhaps the full CRASC will have something to say about this at their upcoming meeting? Oh but Andy Fisk of CRC is the CRASC’s chair, so perhaps it’s just fine. I’m sure there’s a plan. Be careful what you wish for! What I’m not certain of is whether the folks living in the little “Patch” section of Turners will be thanking CRC. Certainly the sturgeon won’t…

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.

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

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


THE ROCK DAM Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

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

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


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

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


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

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

* PROGRAM DETAILS BELOW *

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

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

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

GREAT CONNECTICUT RIVER SURVIVAL WALK DRAWS BIG MULTI-STATE CROWD

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

GREAT CONNECTICUT RIVER SURVIVAL WALK DRAWS BIG MULTI-STATE CROWD

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

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

THE DAY’S SPEAKERS BEARING WITNESS

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

WHERE THE RUBBER NEVER MET THE ROAD

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

THE LEGACY OF FAILURES

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

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

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

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Robert Flaherty All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUNNING BACKWARD FOR DECADES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

This machine is a crime against nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESPONSIBLE FOR SECURING A LIVING RIVER FUTURE FOR OUR KIDS:

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

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

CONNECTICUT RIVER DEADBEAT DEFENSE: endangered species habitat orphaned–again

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

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

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

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

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

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


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

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

TEXT IMMEDIATELY BELOW IS FROM THE NOAA/NMFS website:

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

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

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


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


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

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karl Meyer, MS
Member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

Of Book Bans, Journalism and Shortnose Stout

Posted by on 06 Mar 2021 | Tagged as: Alden Booth, Andrew Fisk, Barnaby Watten, Bob Flaherty, Clean Water Act, Congressman John Olver, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, critical habitat, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FirstLight Power, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, journalism, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Monte Belmonte, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, Shortnose Stout, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The People's Pint, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, WHMP, WRSI

Of Book Bans, Journalism and Shortnose Stout: a brief history of science, censorship and the short, noble life of a beer created to help stop corporate abuse on the Connecticut River Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

(NOTE: for a WHMP podcast with Host Bob Flaherty related to this story go here: https://whmp.com/morning-news/sturgeon-stout-has-come-gone-but-the-harm-to-the-sturgeons-spawning-ground-continues/ )

A red slurry enters the Connecticut at the Rock Dam

Nearly a decade back retired federal fisheries biologist Dr. Boyd Kynard was putting the finishing touches on a book entitled Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons. It was a compilation of sturgeon research conducted by federal biologists and university researchers—largely based locally on the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Its findings described the shortnose sturgeon’s life history and habitat needs on the river from below Holyoke Dam, all the way to a spawning site known as the Rock Dam. The ancient Rock Dam site is just a few hundred yards from the USGS Conte Lab in Turners Falls where Kynard had spent a chunk of his career.

The sturgeon book authored by Kynard et al

Just as Kynard’s book was going to print in Germany, published by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, Boyd Kynard and Harold Rosenthal, its editors, received word from the US Geological Service that two chapters of the book were being “recalled” for “editorial” reasons, and all publication would need to be halted in the United States and abroad. The reasons given were rather murky at the time—some were vague stylistic preferences. Kynard immediately smelled a rat. He believed that the two chapters thrown into question were being stymied because they used the term “river regulation” as a key factor in the spawning failure of the shortnose sturgeon here—the only federally endangered migratory fish in the Connecticut River system and one that spawned on the doorstep of the USGS Conte Lab.

The term river regulation was accurate, precise and descriptive. It referred to conditions created when the power company, just upstream, either inundated or starved the bed of the Connecticut River via operation of its Turners Falls Dam. The dam is operated in response to the massive river disruption created when the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, a giant, net-loss energy contraption just upstream, either suctioned or spewed huge pulses of water in and out of the riverbed. This grim industrial model literally cripples the ancient flows of this ecosystem, killing millions of fish outright, while creating spawning conditions for shortnose sturgeon that cause spawning failure most years at Rock Dam. The Rock Dam, confirmed by Kynard’s research, is the only documented natural spawning site on the river. It appeared the USGS did not want something put in print that directly stated those facts—one that led straight back to the actions of a corporation.

As a journalist I’d already spent many hours with Boyd Kynard, asking questions about sturgeon, shad, and river conditions. We’d had many a fine discussion over breakfast and coffee, often lasting two hours and more. The idea that the book’s information was being embargoed, censored, really hit a sour note about free speech, freedom of information and interfering with the facts and data of research science. Along with Dr. Kynard, several of the ten co-authors of the book’s chapters from various labs and universities cried foul.

The US Geological Service actually caused the book’s publication to be banned for a brief time in Europe, but the publishers ultimately decided they would not be bowed by the politics of a foreign federal agency. They resumed printing and selling the book. Here in the United State, USGS held tight to their recall and vague objections to the book’s science. Compiled and written by Kynard and fellow researchers, The Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons was essentially banned—with no schedule for those USGS’s loose objections to be resolved. Months passed as the silencing of federal and state research science and the work of those authors, continued.

What ultimately broke the ban was journalism. I interviewed Kynard. Then I attempted to interview his long-time assistant and fellow researcher Micah Kieffer, who still worked at the USGS Conte Lab. Kieffer was not allowed to speak with me. In fact, that spring he was unceremoniously taken off sturgeon research altogether, and sent upriver to work on studies of trout—far from his area of expertise. Ultimately, I was able to get Barnaby Watten, Branch Chief at Conte Lab on the record. Not surprisingly, he could provide no clear reason why USGS was recalling and withholding Kynard and Kieffer’s Chapters 1 and 3. After that I tracked down the USGS editor, who it turned out, had no experience in shortnose sturgeon biology. It all went into my developing story for the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

But what ultimately broke the embargo was my chat with an aide to Congressman John Olver—noting to him that a group of federal and university researchers had all signed a letter to his boss, decrying the silencing of federal and university research. In short, they claimed censorship by USGS. Free speech protections, university science and the public’s right to know were being thwarted by a federal agency. Once this was brought to the attention of John Olver’s office I was quickly informed that Dr. Olver, a former UMass professor, fully intended to “look into the matter.”

The next day I brought that bit of information back to Barnaby Watten at USGS, asking for a reaction. This was a Friday. And, with just that bit of inquiry on behalf of the public’s right to know, the federal embargo on the government and university science contained in Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, quickly evaporated. By the weekend, Dr. Kynard was signing and delivering copies of a book that was the product of his nearly 20 years of federal sturgeon research. My Gazette article appeared sometime the following week.

What made it so creepy—the recall and ban, was that it was coming on the heels of the beginning of the relicensing process for the Turners Falls Dam and Turners Falls Power Canal, and the giant Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, 7 miles upriver. The corporate owners of that spawning-crippling “river regulation” lived right nearby. The land USGS Conte Lab sat on was owned by the power company. Hard not to contemplate a corporate connection.

Anyway, that fall, 2012, I began taking part as a participating stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team in the Federal Energy Regulatory Relicensing process for those facilities. I had a lot of science and writing experience pertaining to fish, dam, and river issues, and also had worked for both the power company and the watershed council previously. It was a pretty thorough bit of starter knowledge that I could make use of. I knew where the bodies were buried, where culpability for the abuse and failures in habitat protection lay.

Funny thing though, when the state and federal fish agencies, assorted stakeholders and the power company, FirstLight, sat down to discuss river studies and information needed to create new river conditions in a new license, very little mention was being made of shortnose sturgeon, the sole endangered species trying to spawn right in the heart of these relicense settings.

Frustrated, as deadlines loomed for the outlines of that spring’s fish migration studies were being discussed—all largely without anyone talking “sturgeon”, I phoned Dr. Kynard. In light of the seeming “third rail” absence of discussion about needed flows for sturgeon spawning, I asked him to release permission for me to use and enter Chapters 1 and 3 into the federal record of the relicensing. Boyd complied, and I quickly put all that science into the record so it would have standing. I also intervened later that spring when some test flows into the riverbed suggested by the power company were so low that they were guaranteed to interfere with sturgeon spawning. I won a change in the spring study flows–they didn’t get to low-ball the river’s only endangered migrants that year.

Shortnose Stout: a noble public information idea that ultimately went sideways; then belly up

Still, as time went on there just seemed to be only a smattering of lip service at the company/stakeholder meeting tables involving river flows and fish studies that mentioned shortnose sturgeon. It was remarkably, eerily quiet on that count. One day over a coffee meeting where I was downloading more long-term fisheries knowledge from Dr. Kynard, I told him that I had an idea for a beer, Shortnose Stout. I promised him I would find a producer for it, to help get the word out about sturgeon flows to the public. That effort would take many more months, but when out cycling one warm day I bumped into Alden Booth, owner of The People’s Pint in Greenfield. I told him I had this great idea for a beer name and marketing concept to help create change for an amazing–and amazingly ignored fish. He came on board pretty quick.

Over the winter things began to brewing. The Pint came up with a fine label, a Shortnose sturgeon backlit by a full sturgeon moon. I came up with the text, describing both the beer and the biological plight of the sturgeon at its spawning site, the Rock Dam—while pointing the public to the science featured on Kynard’s website. This was all volunteer work for me, done in the name of giving a voice to the river and this embattled fish.

The brand I created; my text, and Dr. Kynard’s website link.

The beer debuted on St. Patrick’s Day at The People’s Pint, and created quite a buzz. Meanwhile, Alden Booth had asked me whether there wasn’t a group that could be targeted to benefit from the sale of Shortnose Stout. I told him that I really didn’t see anyone doing any worthy river protection in light of this endangered fish’s plight. Nobody had taken up that fight. There was no one that deserved either praise or reward in the sturgeon’s name. So, it was let go at that.

The following spring, despite the Endangered Species Act, the published book, the science, and a year of Shortnose Stout, no one was standing up to the sturgeon miseries STILL occurring at the Rock Dam spawning site in the midst of federal negotiations. There was no action, nothing stated from Mass. Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Marine Fisheries about stepping in at this critical time, and no USGS work to track spawning success at Rock Dam.

I did learn from The Pint’s Booth that the popular stout was going to be brewed again in March. But where I again would’ve noted that none were worthy of having stood up for sturgeon, I was informed that the Connecticut River Watershed Council was stepping up to collect funds in the name of the Shortnose sturgeon. With that I simply declined the invitation to be at that spring’s St. Patrick’s Day debut of a new batch of Shortnose Stout. Dr. Kynard did attend, and on the invitee list was also Dr. Andy Fisk, newly arrived director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council–happy to step in front of a camera.

Fisk had recently been pictured in The Greenfield Recorder, holding a bottle of Shortnose Stout on a bridge above the Connecticut. Any self-respecting shortnose sturgeon would tell you that the only site worthy of getting a photograph taken for your hard, hard work protecting this species would have required you to pose at the Rock Dam–the grimly embattled site that remains this river’s ugliest, most pointedly-ignored and undefended critical biological habitat on the entire river. The Watershed Council collected the profits and accolades in the name of the shortnose, while the actual fish remained undefended and under siege for yet another spawning season at Rock Dam. It’s great PR associating with an endangered species though.

I believe that was the final year Shortnose Stout was brewed. It was a shame such an opportunity for action was squandered. The miseries for this river’s federal and state endangered shortnose sturgeon remain today exactly as they were nearly a decade back, when a federal agency quickly stepped in and placed an embargo on a book written by researchers doing public research in the public’s interest, conducted at their own federal facilities.

The watershed council has since changed its name to “conservancy,” but in all its 69 years has never brought on board any legal staff, or adopted a mission to investigate, enforce, and prosecute—the basic things necessary to lay claim to protecting a river and endangered species.

The Connecticut River Shortnose sturgeon will arrive back at its ancient Rock Dam spawning site in just five weeks. There the riverbanks have been collapsing and failing, oozing a grim orange puss that feeds directly into their cobbled spawning pool home. The Rock Dam’s critical habitat becomes more debased, embattled and ignored with each passing season. Year after year, decade upon decade, there is no more disgraceful biological habitat—on this river, at the heart of the Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, on the doorstep of the USGS Conte Lab, just across the river from Greenfield, home to the Connecticut River Conservancy, than the ancient Rock Dam pool on New England’s Great River.


The Connecticut River’s Rock Dam spawning pool today. Shortnose sturgeon will be returning to this grim and undefended spawning habitat 5 weeks from today.

In the end, nobody walked the walk. No one stepped up; no one deserved to profit from the sale of a beer named to honor and protect a river and a magnificent and embattled ancient fish.

Here in Massachusetts on the Connecticut River during a critical and endless FERC relicensing process the only apparent player playing for keeps is FirstLight Power–the Canadian-owned, Delaware-registered, recently-arrived operators of these river-crippling facilities. Their shareholders are delighted, I’m sure.

What will our grandchildren have to say about what we failed to do here?.

(**NOTE: for further information related to this story listen to the following podcast with Host Monte Belmonte from WRSI, The River. https://wrsi.com/monte/saving-rock-dam-from-damnation/

CONNECTICUT RIVER IMPEACHMENT DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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