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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.

Shad fishing reported as excellent below Turners Falls

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



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

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

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

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


Posted by on 12 Dec 2012 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, ecosystem, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, salmon hatchery, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Service’s Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Lab, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS

NOTE: The following piece, slightly edited, appeared earlier this month in Connecticut River Valley publications and outlets in CT, MA, and VT. The original version is below.



Copyright © 2012, by Karl Meyer

The River Fix for Fatal Attraction

With a salmon hatchery program no longer clouding issues, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and directors from MA, VT, NH and CT have a singular opportunity to redeem the Connecticut River restoration. They’re currently making choices for restoring migratory fish north to Bellows Falls, VT, begun under the 45 year-old New England Cooperative Fisheries Compact. The decisions stem from the 1965 Anadromous Fish Conservation Act. They’ll seal this ecosystem’s fate at four federally-licensed dams and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station until 2058.

US F&WS’s Region 5 Director Wendi Weber, John Warner, and Ken Sprankle will join National Marine Fisheries’ Daniel Morris, Julie Crocker, and MA Fish & Wildlife’s Caleb Slater in making the decisions—with input from state directors. Their 1967 mandate is restoration of shad and herring runs to offer the public “high quality sport fishing opportunities” and provide “for the long-term needs of the population for seafood.”

Sadly, in 1980 their predecessors abandoned two miles of the Connecticut to the power company operating at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain. By allowing privatization of the river at mile 120, they killed chances of passage success for millions of American shad barred from spawning at Greenfield, Gill and Northfield, MA, right to the foot of Bellows Falls at Walpole, NH at mile 172. Unwittingly, they also continued the decimation of the ancient spawning grounds of the river’s last, 300, viable federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Instead of mandating river flows and a direct route upstream to a lift at the dam, they acquiesced to diverting migrants into a power canal. That Rube Goldberg–a three-trick knot of currents and ladders, proved an utter failure to the hundreds of thousands of shad moving upstream annually through elevators at Holyoke Dam. There, via a lift built in 1955, 380,000 American shad streamed north in 1980. It’s the East Coast’s most successful fish passage; it by-passes the city’s canals.

Half or more of those shad swam upstream; but foundered in the treacherous Turners Falls complex. At the dam, just as today, some depleted their energies by treading water for weeks—washed back and forth by a power company’s deluge-and-trickle releases, finding no elevator or upstream entrance. Many eventually turned back, only to be tempted by spill from their power canal. Fish unlucky enough to ascend the ladder there found a desperate compromise. Over 90% wouldn’t exit alive. Just as today, alien habitat and extreme turbulence overwhelmed them. Only 1-in-100 emerged upstream. For the rest, a turnaround spelled almost certain death in turbines. Others lingered for weeks in an alien canal environment, until they expired. Just as today.

This year over 490,000 shad passed Holyoke. Half or more attempted to pass Turners Falls. Just 26,000, or 1-in-10, swam beyond the dam–a percentage consistently reached in the 1980s. This is described as “success” by US Geological Survey Conte Lab scientists, Dr. Alex Haro and Dr. Ted Castro-Santos, after fourteen seasons of canal study. In work garnering annual power company subsidies, they’ve attempted to model that canal is a viable migration path.

I interviewed Dr. Haro in 2007, subsequent to a 1999-2005 study finding shad passage at Turners Falls had plummeted to “one percent or less” directly on the heals of Massachusetts 1999 energy deregulation for the Northfield Mountain-Turners Falls’ complex. I asked why passage had failed there, “I wouldn’t call it failure,” Haro replied. Fish passage saw no significant rebound until 2010, when the effects of GDF-Suez’s Northfield Mountain plant were stopped cold for 6 months—sanctioned by the EPA for massive silt dumping. Likewise, Dr. Castro-Santos’s claims to passage of one-in-ten fish as progress seem deeply troubling when his findings, after 14 years, are just now revealing shad dying “in droves” in that canal, “We don’t know why.”

In 1865, James Hooper, aged 86, of Walpole, NH reported: (from The Historical Society of Cheshire County (NH) “The area just below Bellows Falls was a famous place for catching shad because they gathered there but did not go up over the falls. The fish were caught with scoop nets. One spring Hooper helped to haul out 1300 shad and 20 salmon with one pull of the net.”

Citizens upstream of the 1798 Turners Falls Dam need not accept the dead shad runs and severed ocean-ecosystem of the last 214 years at a dam operated to cull price-spikes from the electricity “spot market.” An 1872 US Supreme Court decision against owners of Holyoke Dam mandates passage of the public’s fish. Nor do citizens from Old Saybrook, CT to Bellows Falls have to accept endangered sturgeon, a lethal canal, and a dead river at mile 120. After 32 years of fatal attraction at Turners Falls, its time to stop steering fish into a canal death trap. Holyoke proves that’s possible.

Karl Meyer is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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