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Connecticut River banks collapsing at critical shortnose sturgeon spawning ground

Posted by on 21 Oct 2019 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

The Connecticut River banks above the Rock Dam pool–the only documented natural spawning site in the entire ecosystem for the federally endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, are collapsing and discharging polluting silt and what has been noted as a red, oxidizing leachate of manganese which is now entering the fragile habitat . Several sink holes, 4 and 5 feet deep have also begun showing up in the last three years atop the eroded trails leading to this ancient fishing area. They are inhabited by still-living, sunken hemlock trees. In other places, large trees are toppling.

These site are subject to the conditions in the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses P-1889, and P-2485, governing the operations of the Turners Falls Dam/Power Canal/Cabot Station, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project. Both of these projects are currently the subject of FERC relicensing. They fall under the protections of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: the Rock Dam pool and the pollution entry site are pictured in several photos. A tape measure draped across the red chair in these photos measures 5-feet across, for some perspective.

The apparent eroding water source for these collapsed banks is the outer curve of the ballooning Turners Falls power canal, just 200 feet away, at this site just few hundred yards north of the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center. The last time the canal was fully mucked out and examined at this site was 2009. Note the photos from that year of heavy machinery in the canal.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

The rate of collapse of these banks has increased dramatically this year, with two area gashes of 8 feet, and 25 feet across, falling away into a widening gully that feeds this silty pollution directly into the cobble, rubble, and sands that are the critical spawning and nursery habitat of the shortnose sturgeon, this river system’s only federally-endangered migratory fish. The maintenance of these banks has long been the responsibility of FirstLight Power, operators of the Turners Falls Dam, power canal, and of the violently disruptive peaking operations of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, 9 miles upstream.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

In the photo below are those same canal banks filled with thousands of cubic yards of muck, left un-shoveled and uninvestigated, where they bow out, adjacent to the collapsing banks above the Rock Dam site. It was taken during this year’s canal draw-down in the first week of October 2019. That muck, adjacent to those leaching/collapsing banks, was again not removed this year. That hasn’t occurred in a decade, since 2009.
Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Photo copyright © 2019, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Why no FISH?, STILL???

Posted by on 30 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: American shad, Atlantic salmon, Bellows Falls Fishway, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRASC, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FirstLight, Gary Sanderson, Greenfield Recorder, Holyoke Fish Lift, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Montague Reporter, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Public Law 98-138, Rock Dam, shad, shortnose sturgeon, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, Turners Falls, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vernon Dam Fishway

The disastrously-emptied Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, June 27, 2010. (CLICK, then Click several times more for FULLEST VIEW) Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

All photos and text Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

By clicking on the blue link WHY no FISH… above, and then clicking it again on the following page, you will open an old PowerPoint presentation that I gave to the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Holyoke in December 2010. It will take several minutes to load, but is then largely self-explanatory, with text available below photos, or by clicking the text tab.

On April 30, 2010 I embarked on a journey to the mouth of the Connecticut River by bicycle, to document the grim crippling of the river and its shad runs due to the lack of enforcement and engagement of fisheries agencies and river organizations. At the time, they were all still cheerleaders for a failed salmon program, ignoring the stark facts of the impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project on American shad and federally endangered shortnose sturgeon.

At the time I was doing part-time work at the Connecticut River Watershed Council, but quit out of frustration and disappointment just a few months after.

Notably, just a year later, the US Fish & Wildlife Service cancelled its long-failed salmon hatchery and “restoration” program on the Connecticut. A year after that, the river conversation became about the impacts of flows in the Dead Reach of the Connecticut, and Dr. Boyd Kynard’s groundbreaking book focusing on federally endangered shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam was released–though only following an unconscionable 3-month embargo of his research data by the US Geological Service.

Nearly a decade later, Northfield Mountain remains the Connecticut River ecosystem’s deadliest machine, directly impacting riverine life and migratory fish abundance in three states.

The Connecticut River now has TWO “conservancies”, but not a single NGO that makes any claims for ENFORCEMENT being a chief (or really ANY) component of their mandate. And ENFORCEMENT is a requisite for any true ecosystem restoration and river protection outfit that means to carry out its mission. This is a four-state ecosystem without a legal team. The Connecticut remains a river unprotected.

The Broken Connecticut

Posted by on 09 Oct 2018 | Tagged as: American shad, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FirstLight, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, pumped storage, Relicensing, shad, Uncategorized

Copyright © 2018 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved

Eight years ago, almost to the day, this is how the Connecticut River in front of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage intake looked. (Click, then Click twice more)

The owners were under sanction from the EPA and had been scrambling for months to suction the mountain of reservoir silt they’d illegally dumped directly into the Connecticut after massively botching their reservoir de-watering and clean-out.Northfield remained inoperable from May 1st through early November. To minimize the reactivation of silt they’d already fouled the river with, they set up a ponderously long silt curtain–supposed to keep their gunk in place. Below, is how their silt-safety set-up looked on July 20, 2010 (Click, the Click twice more)

However, if you look at how effectively that sanctioned-solution was when employed-by–and deployed by the company, you would have to look at this photo below from October 2, 2010. (Click, then Click twice)

The sole solution FirstLight has proposed in these FERC proceedings to prevent the suctioning deaths of millions of juvenile shad–and that’s disregarding their round-the-year evisceration of adult and young fish of dozens of species, is to place a barrier net across the mouth of their giant suction and slice pumped storage contraption. This, for the next several decades, would be like putting a band-aid on a massively severed artery. If they couldn’t keep a net in place in the river when Northfield was sanctioned NOT pumping at all, what gives anyone the idea that this bit of window dressing will be of any service to a broken river system at all.

Since FirstLight is proposing to suck more water out of the river to suck into that reservoir, why not trade that money-making scheme for having NFMT shut down at key seasons to comply with the law and protect the Public Trust.

In delivering the 1872 Supreme Court’s decision in Holyoke Company vs. Lyman, Justice Nathan Clifford entered the following into his decision:

“Ownership of the banks and bed of the stream, as before remarked, gives to the proprietor the exclusive right of fishery, opposite his land, as well as the right to use the water to create power to operate mills, but neither the one nor the other right nor both combined confer any right to erect obstructions in the river to prevent the free passage of the fish up and down the river at their accustomed seasons.”

In deciding against the dam owners who had repeatedly refused to construct fish passage at their dam as settled law in the Commonwealth had long required, the Court made upstream and downstream passage of the public’s fish a precedent and legal right in rivers throughout the United States.

“Fish rights below a dam, constructed without passageways for the fish, are liable to be injured by such a structure as well as those owned above the dam, as the migratory fish, if they cannot ascend to the head waters of the stream at their accustomed seasons will soon cease to frequent the stream at all, or in greatly diminished numbers.”

Fish kill photos, Turners Falls Power Canal, 9/18/17

Posted by on 19 Sep 2017 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

A tiny sampling of the thousands of struggling young fish and freshwater clams killed annually in the draining of the Turners Falls Power Canal. Sea lamprey, suckers, shad, bass, pickerel, pumpkinseed, etc. Photos taken on the morning of September 18, 2017, as the water was still draining. As the water draws down completely, the fish struggle and become sand covered, rendering them largely invisible in the muddy habitat.

NOTE: Click on images, then click again to ENLARGE.


Posted by on 19 Aug 2017 | Tagged as: American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, Dead Reach, New England FLOW, Uncategorized

NOTES: If you go to the home page of this website www.karlmeyerwriting.com and scroll down through a few of the photos you’ll come to a picture of a smiling young guy. That’s a young Charlie Read from a decade ago, on a bicycle ride around the Quabbin Reservoir. Charlie had grown into a remarkable young man when he unexpectedly passed away just over a year ago from a relatively little known complication of epilepsy. It was a devastating blow to his parents Clif and Arleen, and sister Susan.

Charlie is missed and remembered as a smart, caring, playful, tenacious, friend, son, student, teammate, and companion to all the many whose lives he touched. Parents Clif and Arleen Read, and friends, undertook a cross country cycling tour in Charlie’s honor this summer, helping raise funds for the Epilepsy Foundation along the way. Completed earlier this month, you can learn about their efforts and adventures at c2c4charlie.org and still donate. Going forward, we will all keep Charlie in our hearts.

The following piece appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette (gazettenet.com) and in edited form in The Greenfield Recorder (recorder.com) earlier this month. (Note the Connecticut River Watershed Council recently changed its name to the Connecticut River Conservancy).

Copyright © 2017 by Karl Meyer, All Rights Reserved


A fragile legacy clings to life in the Connecticut River at Turners Falls just downstream of where the Great Falls Discovery Center perches above an ancient cataract once known as Peskeomscut. It includes a dozen state-endangered and threatened plants and insects, a rare freshwater clam, plus several culturally and archeologically sensitive islands and the only known natural spawning site for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Currently no part of that legacy is safeguarded in any meaningful way by the handful of responsible government agencies.

The view downstream from the Turners Falls Bridge consists largely of a dewatered riverbed, parching stream banks, and islands bereft of anything that might offer life-giving nourishment. It’s a reach depauperized by seesawing flows diverted at the adjacent dam and greatly influenced by the huge suck-and-surge water appetite of the PSP Investments’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, five miles upstream.

All rarities here have been documented within the past quarter century. The beleaguered islands speak for themselves. All remain subject to industrial abuse and human encroachment. Two federal, and a handful state agencies are responsible for safeguarding that legacy. Sadly even the US Geological Survey’s Conte Anadromous Fish Research Lab abandoned monitoring the few dozen spawning-ready shortnose sturgeon attempting reproduction in an ancient pool there a decade ago. That “Rock Dam pool,” below a tiny waterfall, sits just beyond the Lab’s west windows.

If the National Marine Fisheries Service, MA Fish & Wildlife’s Natural Heritage Program, the MA Historical Commission, the USGS and the US Fish & Wildlife Service are serious about protecting a river’s legacy, it’s time to act. In 2007 the Connecticut River Watershed Council produced its 3rd edition of the Connecticut River Boating Guide. On March 13, 2017, the Council convened a meeting of its recreational constituents in Brattleboro VT. There it was clear commercial and recreational whitewater interests are keen to begin rides in that fragile Turners Falls reach. They want new put-ins and spring flows to accommodate bulky, seven-person rafts and personal watercraft. They’d already showed up in force there in May 2016 to joyride atop the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s mandated test flows, flows meant to enhance the survival of sturgeon and other migrants.

If new flows are mandated by FERC’s 2018 new hydro licenses there, American Whitewater, the Appalachian Mountain Club and New England Flow will again be looking to make two-second passes over those tiny Rock Dam falls. A little watery pool there is where spring sturgeon gather and spawn, and where embryos and young develop through June. But American Whitewater’s representative that day contended there would be no ill impacts from rides over that low escarpment into the sturgeon’s spawning pool. One commercial interest even suggested a path should be cut across the adjoining island, so rafts could be carried back upstream for repeat runs.

But that tiny drop and pool is adjacent to an island of historic importance owned by Western Massachusetts Electric. It’s a place of cultural and archeological significance to Native Americans whose ancestors were attacked in the Turners Falls Massacre. The site is geographically and physically the likely fishing refuge occupied by Native groups who counter attacked and routed Turner’s army on May 19, 1676. Current archeological investigations are in progress relating to that attack and the area’s ancient battle paths. Historian Sylvester Judd’s 1863 posthumous History of Hadley notes a scouting expedition undertaken by colonial troops in 1676, six weeks after that bloodbath: “On the 28th of June, about 30 men went up towards the falls, and espied no Indians. They burnt a hundred wigwams upon an island, ruined an Indian fort, spoiled an abundance of fish which they found in Indian barns underground, and destroyed 30 canoes.”

Considering fragile wetland banks, safety concerns, and its cultural and historic importance, that island should remain off limits. It should not suffer the indignity of becoming a landing pad for river joyriders. Endangered shortnose sturgeon need shielding from slamming, overtopping and landing watercraft when they begin gathering there in early April. From that time on, throughout June, spawning sturgeon and developing embryos and young need protection from paddles, rafts, beaching crowds–and their attendant turbidity. Other fragile species would benefit. Those spring weeks would be a great time for a Turners Falls Sturgeon Revival Festival.

Just over a quarter century ago two state- and federally-endangered bald eagles began nesting on an unnamed Connecticut River island just upstream at Barton Cove. A host of boaters, birders and photographers were soon vying for close-ups of the birds in 1991. To safeguard that biological heritage the island was made off-limits to ensure the eagles’ life cycle–courtship, nest-building, hatching, brooding and rearing, could proceed unimpeded. A perimeter barred approach by water and signs warned trespassers of fines and jail time under federal and state law. Environmental policed patrolled the area. Until that nest tree toppled in 2008, nearly three dozen bald eagles fledged from the site. That’s how it’s done.

# # #

Karl Meyer of Greenfield serves on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for Connecticut River generating sites in Massachusetts. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Sampling of dying fish in the Turners Falls Power Canal

Posted by on 20 Sep 2016 | Tagged as: Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, fish kill on the Connecticut, fish passage, resident river fish, Turner Falls Canal annual draining, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized

Below are some examples of the fish found dying in the Turners Falls Power Canal as it underwent its annual draining by FirstLight on September 19, 2016. These were taken in the rain between 7:15 and 7:45 a.m., in one quarter mile reach of the 2.1 mile long conduit. There were thousands of struggling aquatic animals laying prone on the draining sand, from crayfish and freshwater mussels, to chain pickerel. CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN on any photo to enlarge. (Note: all photos Copyright 2016, by Karl Meyer)


Posted by on 15 Jan 2016 | Tagged as: American shad, climate change, Connecticut River, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Daily Hampshire Gazette, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Energy Capital Partners, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FirstLight, fossil plant, GDF-Suez FirstLight, ISO, ISO New England, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, NOAA, non-renewable, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Rock Dam, shortnose sturgeon, The Greenfield Recorder, The Pioneer, The Recorder, Turners Falls dam, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

The following piece appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette(www.gazettenet.com) and the Recorder(www.recorder.com) in the first week of January 2016.


Copyright © 2015 by Karl Meyer

Ever dreamed of owning your own bank? I got a deal for you! Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project is for sale again, along with the Turners Falls canal and dam—and a string of little assets down in Connecticut. But Northfield’s the cash cow. Fourth time in a decade they’re unloading this golden calf–always at a tidy chunk of change. A quickie corporate win-win! It’s really like an A.T.M., run at the expense of the Connecticut River ecosystem.

Place works like a giant toilet–suck huge amounts of the river backward and uphill, then flush it all back and—viola, money spews out the other end. Could be ours! They’re holding bidder tours as we speak. I just need a few partners with ready credit. We go in on short-money and cash-in on the no-brainer electricity “spot market” for a few years. Then, with inflated power-price futures in play, we offload this puppy for a final cash-out of 30%–maybe 50%!

Here’s how it goes down. With the cheerleading of Northfield’s not-so-silent partner, ISO New England–the “independent” system operator (created by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), we simply slow dance this darlin’ past the banks, the FTC and FERC. Then, in 2016, its sweet business-as-usual—maybe with new shirts for employees.

Trust me, this works every time. Everyone walks away with full pockets—without the public knowing what hit them. Northfield got wholesaled in 2006 by Northeast Generations Services(formerly WMECO—formerly of Northeast Utilities, now Eversource—you follow?) They grabbed a quick $1.34 billion for the package, slipping it to a trio of Jersey venture capitalists, Energy Capital Partners. ECP renamed their little project FirstLight Energy. Those smartest-guys-in-the-room hung-in and grabbed Northfield’s peaking spot-market profits for two years, before off-loading it for a nifty $1.89 billion in that crazy year, 2008.

With that, GDF-Suez, third owner in four years, swept in–the world’s largest private energy corporation, based in France. They’ve been gobbling up contracts to run water systems across the US under the name Suez United Water. But GDF-Suez recently did a clever name-change to Engie, keeping the public totally confused. They got game! The true costs of these premium-priced plant sales get buried in the list of acronyms on electric bills. It’s like owning a 25-mile stretch the Connecticut River to dip into for cash any time you please.

This is a turn-key operation–with us, the new guys, pushing the buttons. The joke is that the public thinks Northfield is a hydropower operation, while this baby has never produced a single watt of its own energy. It’s imported!–huge swatches of bulk electricity now run-in from outside the region to suck a mountain’s worth of flow from the Connecticut up to a reservoir. Then, dump it out on the power lines when prices peak. It’s hugely inefficient, now largely carbon-based—and massively damaging to the river. But amazingly profitable!

That’s where we come in. Sure it was built as a sister to the region’s nukes to gobble up their monstrous stream of unused electricity–because nukes can’t shut down their feverish output at night. That’s how you get to put in a giant straw and suck the Connecticut uphill at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second–more than enough to pull the river backward for a mile downstream under low flow conditions. But who’s watching? When the region’s last nuke shut down, nobody said ‘boo!’ with Northfield going fossil. What climate change?

And when it became clear years back that Northfield operations were imperiling spawning success for the federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls–their singular natural spawning site going back into pre-history, again, nobody came forward. Not the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service or the MA Division of Fish & Wildlife—or any river protection group. No bureaucrats, no suits–nobody. At Turners Falls—instead of 70% of migratory fish heading upstream toward Vermont and New Hampshire, they squeeze out 4%. We have it made!

Still skeptical? ISO and FERC are addicted to Northfield—even though its power-flush characteristics might come into play maybe a handful of times a year, if at all. For this they let owners cash in on the river whenever y they want. In 2012, the owners of this “asset” collection of 1500 megawatts(of which over 1100 MW derived from Northfield alone) told investors a full 40% of their profits were realized from “Capacity Fees.” What that means is you get paid for holding back the Connecticut! They’re not required to use it at all if they don’t want to—just flush when prices are high. Paid for being you! Of course another 50% of profit comes from generating, though the public doesn’t know it only operates a few hours a day when prices are highest.

Here’s the kicker: in 2014, after a cry-wolf energy deficit winter that never materialized, FERC–with ISO as cheerleader, sanctioned the doubling of those “capacity fees”. Plants are now collecting 2X the amount they were two years back, for having the potential to dump some power on the lines—not for actually generating. Paid for being you! With 1100 potential megawatts at Northfield, how quick can you say “windfall at the public’s expense?” Lastly, Northfield petitioned FERC the last two winters to increase its reservoir storage by a full 25%, with ISO their biggest cheerleader. FERC agreed, twice. Double-dip with a cherry, anyone?

This thing’s a cinch! Even with all the nukes shut—when this should have been moth-balled to emergency use as more climate-warming, spent nuclear junk, it soldiers on as a virtual river monopoly with the blessings of FERC and ISO. Trust me, no one goes to court. Ecosystem damage, costs to the public? Fuggetaboutit!

Got credit? Give a call!

Head gate flows coursing once more; new TF flows could help rejuvenate amazing herring runs

Posted by on 21 May 2015 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

May 21, 2015. Head gate flows into the power canal at Turners Falls Dam at 3 pm on Wednesday, May 20th, were coursing downstream at a pace people are more accustomed to seeing during fish passage time. The canal was churning with whitewater–bubbly froth was strewn out going downstream to points far beyond that industrial conduit’s first long, wide bend. So, things were back to a more “normal” configuration for wild migratory fish forced into that 2-1/2 mile long trench outfitted with slicing hydro turbines. Those migrants need all the prayers you can send them—especially if you are a hopeful angler up in Millers Falls or Northfield, or Brattleboro, VT or Walpole, NH.

By tomorrow, Friday, May 22nd, test flows from the dam will again be reduced from the current 4,400 cfs to 2,500 cfs through Sunday. All these changes, from canal head gate settings, to spill over the dam, have profound impacts on fish trying to make it past Turners Falls.

Thirty-six miles downstream in the spring of 1955 a small miracle occurred. A simple fish elevator—essentially a giant bucket, was installed at the Holyoke Dam. Spill being released from the dam attracted fish directly into that clunky apparatus. By season’s end the first 5,000 American shad to pass Holyoke Dam since 1849 had been lifted upstream. With further improvements there in the mid-1970s, shad numbers skyrocketed to 720,000 in the early 1990s.
Sadly, when all those fish continued upstream to Turners Falls, they found their path ahead blocked once more. The upstream runs foundered there.

At Turners Falls today fish passage is still in much the same state as it was at Holyoke in the 1950s–before they installed that simple apparatus bringing fish directly upstream in the river and giving them a simple lift over the barrier.

Few fish make it upstream past the Turners Falls Dam today. The difference amounts to this: 2-1/2 miles of river that has gone without guaranteed flow for decades; and an industrial canal masquerading as a suitable habitat in which to send wild, migrating fish.

One other miracle began taking shape downstream at Holyoke after that 1955 lift was constructed. Blueback herring, one of the base forage and staple fish in the Connecticut River ecosystem, had a new route upstream to their old tributaries and spawning habitats. By the 1980s they were annually streaming past Holyoke by the hundreds of thousands. Fisheries studies at Turners Falls Dam at that time note that bluebacks were spawning in the mouth of the tiny Falls River–which enters the Connecticut just a few hundred yards downstream of TF Dam.
Ken Sprankle, the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Connecticut River Coordinator has been working to again restore blueback herring to upstream habitats for the last 5 years. Blueback numbers have crashed since the late-1990s. Test flows released at Turners Falls Dam this spring have re-nourished the depth and flow regime at the mouth of the Falls River, and—at least at higher flows, you can see where this is a perfect spawning site for migrating bluebacks. Hopefully, with continued work and renewed flows into the Dead Reach here at Turners Falls, blueback herring—which formally migrated upstream to southern Vermont and New Hampshire, can again spawn at the rejuvenated outfall of the Falls River.

20,000 American shad lifted at Holyoke on Monday, flows reduced at TF

Posted by on 19 May 2015 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

May 19, 2015. This is the anniversary of the massacre at Peskeomscut–known today as Turners Falls, in the second year of King Philips War, 1676. Native Americans had gathered at encampments above the falls for safety and to sustain themselves on the season’s bounty of migratory fish. Women, children and the elderly were sheltered in wigwams at Riverside in Gill, and across the river in what is today’s Unity Park in Turners Falls. They were attacked as they slept. The counter attack by Native American fighters was launched from downstream–on the mid-channel island adjacent to The Rock Dam Pool, where their able-bodied men were harvesting migrating fish to feed their people.

This spring’s spawning run continued strong at Holyoke Monday, with some 20,000 shad lifted there. Upstream at Turners Falls Dam flows were tamped down from 6,300 cfs on Monday to 4,400 cfs today, leaving a significant portion of the riverbed below the dam exposed and unusable for migrating fish.

However, on Monday night at 8 p.m. the head gate flows into the Turners Falls Power Canal were again quiet as a kitten–just as they were again this morning at 8 a.m. These unusual gate settings are anomalous for migration season and it will be interesting to see how they get figured into fish passage success through the dismal environs of FirstLight’s power canal.

By 3 p.m. today head gate flows were back in their usual configuration–with churned whitewater coursing downstream and lacy ribbons of bubbly foam interweaving for some 700 feet into the first wide turn of the canal. The photo below is the accumulated muck that collects in the canal downstream. Its great habitat for carp, goldfish and snapping turtles, but nothing a wild population would ever choose to spend any time in.

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turners Falls

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

Dead Reach test flows continue; canal currents quieted

Posted by on 18 May 2015 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

May 18, 2015: Test flows from the Turners Falls Dam into the Dead Reach of the Connecticut continued today at 6,300 cubic feet per second–the highest flows in these tests. Flows will drop to 4,400 cfs on Tuesday, and run through Thursday at that rate. On Friday they again are tamped back at the dam to the lowest test flow rate, 2,500 cfs.

A stop at the Rock Dam Pool at 12:30 this afternoon found shad still being landed in easy order. Three people were fishing–two in hip waders and one in jeans standing on the ledge above the Rock Dam flow. In fifteen minutes the hip-wader guys landed two and lost one at the waterline, while the angler on the ledge had no luck.

Heading upstream, there were just two people at the base of the Turners Falls Dam at 1 p.m. I crossed the deck of the bridge to see what was up and the one guy with a pole was reeling in a shad, while his buddy was fetching the hoop net. They brought that one in, released it, and the guy tossing in shad darts soon had another hooked. It slipped off as it was brought toward shore. I only stayed for ten minutes, then tucked in under the bridge along the bike path.

AGAIN, something rarely noted during shad migration season–the headgates and flow into the canal at Turners Falls Dam were quiet as the proverbial kitten. There was just a few feet of bubbling water near the Spillway Ladder entrance on the far side of the canal, and perhaps 20 feet of bubbling flow coming out of the entrance to the gatehouse fish ladder on the opposite side of the canal.

Normally, flows here are bubbling and roiling along for a few hundred feet downstream of open head gates on the canal, with quick-water moving through the curve going toward Cabot Station. Today, water there was moving at no more than a s l o w walk… Changing canal headgate positions effect fish passage at Turners Falls.

SPEAKING of fish passage. The USFWS’s Fish Passage Hot-line has not been updated since last June. It is possible to get fish passage numbers via the Connecticut River Coordinator’s web-site.

Here are some of the numbers compiled there, reflecting fish counts at Holyoke as of Sunday, May 17, 2015:

American shad: 241,000 for the season.
Sea lamprey: 8,500
hybrid Atlantic salmon: 3

Holyoke lifted some 5,779 shad on Saturday; that number nearly doubled to 11,605 on Sunday.

Turners Falls, as of Friday, reported passing 10,292 for the season. Updates at TF are irregular.

NOTE: sea lamprey are native migrants–parasitic while in the ocean, but not feeding at all as they migrate up the Connecticut to spawn, then die. They add significant ocean minerals and nutrients to the upstream ecosystem and are an important species in this bio-system. Lampreys were a source of food in some local towns during colonial times.

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