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.
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.
The first link below is from an interview I did with Don Ogden(d.o.) and Glen Ayers on the EnviroShow, which aired this week.
THE GREAT FAILURE TO PROTECT: Flaunting the Endangered Species Act and Other federal and state laws governing clean water and habitat on the Connecticut River at Rock Dam in Massachusetts
Photo credit: US Geological Service
FirstLight’s Turners Falls and Cabot Station under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission License #: FERC P-1889.
The ROCK DAM spawning nursery on the Connecticut River: the ONLY documented NATURAL spawning site for the ONLY FEDERALLY-ENDANGERED MIGRATORY FISH on the Connecticut River: the CONNECTICUT RIVER SHORTNOSE STURGEON.
Desiccating and baking shortnose sturgeon nursery habitat in the Connecticut River at the Rock Dam pool on May 21, 2021.
Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer
The FEDERAL ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT OF 1973, Section 9: the term “TAKE” MAKES IT ILLEGAL TO: “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”
Other federal and state laws NOT being ENFORCED on the Connecticut River at this critical habitat: the CLEAN WATER ACT, THE WETLANDS PROTECTION ACT, and, the Supreme Court’s 1872 landmark environmental decision for the Connecticut River in Holyoke Company v. Lyman—mandating that private operators of dams and facilities on the Connecticut—and thence for all rivers, must provide safe upstream and downstream passage for migratory fish.
A red slurry enters the Connecticut at the Rock Dam
Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer
When there is no WATCHDOG, there is no ENFORCEMENT.
THE: federal and state agencies and leaders responsible for implementation, protection and enforcement of laws and conditions protecting spawning, habitat, life-cycle and survival of the Connecticut River’s sole federal and state endangered migratory fish: THE CONNECTICUT RIVER SHORTNOSE STURGEON
Phil Glick, Chairman, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:
Julie Crocker: Branch Chief, Endangered Fish Recovery unit, NOAA, Gloucester MA (
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
Here is a link to further discussion of testing the connection between the TF Canal and grim sludge at Rock Dam–w/Monte Belmonte, WRSI.com
When there is no WATCHDOG, there is no ENFORCEMENT.
Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer
I took a bicycle ride 20 miles upstream to Vernon Dam this day in hopes of finding a few fish in the windows there. It proved a fruitless journey, though a pretty ride on a summer-like afternoon. There were plenty of lively bubbles in the windows, but not a single shad or early lamprey. Nothing.
The Vernon Fishladder and Dam Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer
This was a river site smack in the midst of migration season that should have seen its first shad weeks ago. But here, on an 80 degree day, nothing.
The Connecticut’s DEAD REACH below Turners Falls Dam Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer
That nothing is because the river downstream below Turners Falls Dam is all but empty. A thin stream of perhaps 1000 cubic feet per second is being dumped over the dam. What should be here, a full three years after the federal license for the hydro site expired, are flows on the order of 5X higher. That water, instead, continues to be dumped into FirstLight’s power canal in order to get an extra peak-priced power jump that puts more money in their coffers and leaves federal trust American shad and federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon starved of migration and spawning flows necessary for them to complete their life cycles in their natural habitats.
For the shad, that fully should now include the 50 miles of open spawning habitat above TF Dam that reaches to Bellows Falls VT and Charlestown NH. But, without water in the DEAD REACH for yet another year, their percentage-prospects for that are in the very low single digits.
The exposed and baking cobbles at Rock Dam, where shortnose sturgeon eggs and early life stage young are supposed to find watery shelter. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer
And, the endangered sturgeon, well, the message from the company is simply–tough luck. Flows at their only documented natural spawning site in the entire ecosystem have be dismal at their Rock Dam nursery and refuge. They were Monday, and Tuesday, and again today. This is a river run by foreigners with no mercy. And, in the midst of all this–in the midst of a a relicensing for facilities whose current license ENDED three spawning seasons back, no one has stepped up for the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon in their time of greatest need. Another season, another sidestep for federal and state fish and environment agencies who fail to act again… and again. And, just one more year for a river without a single independent watchdog–on the four-state Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National FISH & Wildlife Refuge.
This is a river that, 174 years after the US Supreme Court made the landmark(1872) environmental decision in HOLYOKE COMPANY v. LYMAN that dam and facility operators must ensure safe upstream and downstream passage for migratory fish, does not even have a single day-to-day attorney, as even the most bare bones watchdog organization would. And the one on this river has been around since Truman was president.
No water, no watchdog, no ESA enforcement. Corporate Canada–which today owns Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls/Cabot operations, has nothing to fear in this “refuge.” And, the other sad irony, not lost on me as I made my way upstream, is that today is the solemn anniversary of the Turners Falls Massacre, the grim genocidal event that wrested sovereignty from Native People in today’s southern New England on May 19, 1676. They were ambushed in the pre-dawn at Peskeomscut, the great falls, because they had come to the banks of a living river that would feed them, offer them water, shelter, and rest as it had for generations past. It was a respite that was not to endure…
Something there yet remains evident today in the starved riverbed. Recovery is still a dream denied to this place. There is yet little life. This a place that awaits healing water that might again make it whole once more.
Today it sits abandoned, reduced to computations and algorithms that see only money and megawatts as a river’s reason to be…
NOTE: Please click on the link below which includes an invitation to the WalK-the-Walk for Endangered Sturgeon to Rock Dam this Saturday. It is important that people show up for the River. Please join myself and others. And please be aware that there is some steep terrain on this walk.
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
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