Editor of the Reformer: The Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon dams in Vermont and New Hampshire, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls Dam in Massachusetts are renewing their hydropower operating licenses under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Later this summer, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on terms for these licenses that will impact more than 175 miles of the Connecticut River for the next 40-50 years.
These five hydro facilities impact fish and other aquatic life by holding back some flowing water, then releasing it through turbines to generate energy when it’s needed and profitable to do so – a process called “peaking.” This leads to constantly changing water levels upstream and downstream of these facilities. The Connecticut River is home to many types of wildlife that rely on the river during their life cycles. These animals have been around for thousands of years and have been impacted by hydropower facilities over the past 100 years. For example, dragonfly and damselfly species in the Connecticut River are listed as threatened or endangered in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire in the project areas. When they are ready to transform to adults, the larvae crawl out of the river to the bank, shed their larvae body, and unroll their wings, which must dry out and harden before they can fly. During this time, they do not move and are extremely vulnerable. If the water level rises they will drown and die. Federally threatened Puritan tiger and cobblestone tiger beetles burrow in sandy or cobble areas along the river edge. Hydropower operations have permanently flooded some habitat while submerging other areas almost daily. Dewatering or flushing small backwater areas and pools can wipe out the eggs or tadpoles of the state-protected Fowler’s toad. Requirements under new hydropower licenses can address these impacts. Great River Hydro proposed a dramatic change to their operations which will keep river water levels more consistent, with fewer small “peaking” events allowed, depending on the season. Further down river, FirstLight still plans to operate Turners Falls dam and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage in a harmful “peaking” manner. Everyone who cares about wildlife should get involved to speak up for the river later this year. Insist that FirstLight make better changes to their operations like Great River Hydro has proposed to protect our precious natural heritage species. Learn more at www.ctriver.org/hydropower and speak up at www.PowerOfWater.fish.