To the editor: Since late 2012, five hydroelectric facilities in the heart of the Connecticut River have been in the process of renewing their operating licenses, which are issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon dams in Vermont and New Hampshire, and the Northfield Mountain Pump Station and Turners Falls dam in Massachusetts impact more than 175 miles of the Connecticut River. Later this summer, the public will have what may be their last chance to have a say in the final licenses that will endure for the next 30-50 years.
The last time these hydro facilities were licensed was 1979. With this relicensing we have an opportunity to support the restoration of American shad, sea lamprey, blueback herring, and American eel populations in the river, as well as the resident species, by advocating for more effective fish passage through these facilities. While Great River Hydro, the owner of the Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon dams, has proposed positive operational changes in their revised application, they have offered little other detail to address migratory fish passage.
We need to push for changes to fish ladders at all of these facilities to provide safe, effective, and timely upstream and downstream fish passage for migratory species, while allowing resident species to move around for spawning and rearing. This could be accomplished by:
• Improving the effectiveness of the Vernon, Bellows Falls, and Wilder fish ladders to accommodate diadromous species such as American shad, American eel, and sea lamprey.
• Utilize alternate means to pass American eel if the ladders cannot adequately provide effective and timely passage.
• Implement structural and/or operational changes to provide safe, effective, and timely downstream passage for American eel, American shad, and juvenile sea lamprey.
• Expand fishway operation to accommodate resident riverine species such as walleye and sucker that make spawning migrations.
• Continue to test and gather information to ensure these facilities do not continue to cause delay, injury and mortality of these ecologically important species.
Comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by local communities, the states, and individuals are needed to protect our migratory species. If we don’t act now to help sustain this fishery for our children, the next opportunity won’t come until they are our age. You can learn how to get involved at www.ctriver.org/hydropower.
Brattleboro, Feb. 26