October 15, 2015

 

Honorable Kimberly D. Bose

Secretary

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First Street, NE

Washington, DC 20426

 

Re:      Bear Swamp Project No. 2669

Comments on the Bear Swamp Revised Study Plan (RSP)

 

Dear Secretary Bose,

The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRWC) is writing to submit comments on the Bear Swamp Revised Study Plan (RSP) submitted by Bear Swamp Power Company, LLC (BSPC) dated September 30, 2015. CRWC is a nonprofit citizen group that was established in 1952 to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed. CRWC submitted comments on the Proposed Study Plan (PSP) on August 28, 2015 as well as study requests on April 16, 2015.

General Comments

Study Area. BSPC argues in section 1.5 of the RSP against expanding the study areas beyond the confluence of the Cold River. BSPC shows a photo that CRWC used in a publication to demonstrate that illegal dredging on the Chickley River in November of 2011 led to visible siltation in the Deerfield River downstream. BSPC also points out that the Charlemont wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) has been in violation of its NPDES permit for multiple years and BSPC should not be held responsible for water quality problems associated with the treatment plant. CRWC notes that rivers can have multiple influences on water quality, and sometimes the sources can be far upstream. We recall a year in which a flood during a localized thunderstorm in a tributary to the White River in Vermont caused the Connecticut River to look red and brown all the way down to Northampton, MA. That does not mean, however, that there is no nexus between project operations and water quality in the section downstream of a hydropower facility. In relicensing proceedings, it is common to study the impacts of project operations on a given resource, even when that resource may have other issues going on. CRWC tackled the violation on the Chickley River and we also regularly comment and/or take action on NPDES permit violations. We continue to be interested in water quality effects from this hydropower facility going through relicensing. We will point out, also, that the design flow of the Charlemont WWTP is 0.05 MGD which translates to 0.0929 cfs. The daily means on the Deerfield River at the nearby Charlemont USGS gage in August, the month with historically the lowest flows, are around 450 cfs, which is 9,000 times the flow of the WWTP. That being said, CRWC concurs that BSPC should not be held responsible for water quality problems that have nothing to do with project operations. We do, however, firmly believe that the project reach that is appropriate to study includes the section of the Deerfield River downstream of the Cold River to the impoundment of the No. 4 dam. A proper study design can take into account possible influences from other sources.

Study schedules. Additional details have been added to all studies showing information about the study schedule. BSPC plans to issue progress reports on all studies on a quarterly basis. While CRWC appreciates the gesture and intention for the BSPC to stay in touch with stakeholders on the progress of the studies, we think the frequency of updates should be tailored to the specifics of each study so that time and resources are not spent on unnecessary report-writing.

Water Quality Study Plan

Study Area. BSPC has modified the study to include monitoring at all of the locations CRWC originally recommended in our study request dated April 16, 2015. Nevertheless, CRWC continues to recommend that the study area formally include the section of the Deerfield River all the way down to the upstream extent of the Deerfield No. 4 impoundment.

Project operation. A nexus between project operations and water quality should be described.

Methodology. It is unclear why there is text about finding mussel beds, trout redds, and invasive species in section 4.6.3.

CRWC requests that the QAPP be submitted to stakeholders (in addition to MassDEP) for review.

Data Analysis and Reporting: Data on daily project operations and river flow should be included in the final report.

Schedule and Level of Effort. Review of the QAPP should be provided in the timeline.

Fish Assemblage Assessment Study Plan

Study area. Since project effects continue downstream past the confluence of the Cold River and habitat changes downstream from the confluence, there is no compelling basis for ending the study area at Cold River confluence. The study area should be expanded to include the Deerfield River to the upstream extent of the Deerfield Dam No. 4 headpond.

Project Nexus. A nexus between project operations and fish assemblage should be described.

Methodology.  Page 5-8 of the RSP states that a secchi disk reading will be taken at each site at the time of sampling. It is CRWC’s understanding that secchi disks are appropriate only for lake sampling, whereas clarity tubes are used to measure clarity in river water (see http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/monitoring/155.cfm).

 

Data analysis and reporting. The PSP states that BSPC will include tabular data summarizing length, weight, and size class for game fish at each sampling location. CRWC recommends including information for all species, not just game species.

Schedule and level of effort. The RSP shows that the Aquatic Mesohabitat Survey and Assessment field work was already completed in September of 2015, and that the maps will be available by April 1, 2016. This will help inform the fish assemblage sampling to occur starting in May, 2016. CRWC recommends that BSPC hold a meeting or conference call to discuss the mesohabitat maps in advance of the fish assemblage field work.

 

Aquatic Mesohabitat Assessment and Mapping

Study area. BSPC has modified the study to collect data in the area CRWC originally recommended in our study request dated April 16, 2015. Nevertheless, CRWC continues to recommend that the study area formally include the section of the Deerfield River all the way down to the upstream extent of the Deerfield No. 4 impoundment.

Project Nexus. A nexus between project operations and aquatic habitat should be described.

Wetland, Riparian, and Littoral Habitat Study Plan

Methodology. Field surveys should note any potential eagle nest or roost trees for bald eagles, as well as active ones. Today’s Greenfield Recorder had a photograph of an immature bald eagle flying low over the Deerfield River in Charlemont (see photo and caption online at http://www.recorder.com/news/localphotography/19023957-95/eagle-eyed). Eagles are expanding more and more into the Deerfield River watershed.

Recreation Survey

Study Requests. For the record, CRWC did submit comments on the Recreation Survey study as described in the PSP in our comment letter dated August 28, 2015.

Study Area. CRWC believes that the appropriate study area includes the section downstream to the Deerfield No. 4 impoundment. The operation of Fife Brook/Bear Swamp affects the timing and flows of the Deerfield River down to the next dam, and therefore it affects the recreational use of the river through the entire extent. Certainly, the Shunpike put-in and take out should be part of the user survey.

Project Nexus. A nexus between project operations and recreation should be described.

Methodology.

Industry and Law Enforcement Interviews should have a consistent set of questions that are publicly available. No questions have been developed as part of the PSP or RSP. We recommend BSPC develop the interview questions and solicit feedback from stakeholders.

Analysis of a walkable portage around Fife Brook Dam is something we asked for in our study request, and we continue to ask for it.

Trail cameras should be deployed during the time period of use – if there are required whitewater releases in April, the cameras should be deployed at whitewater parking areas in April.

In section 9.8, the RSP states that it would not be time-effective or safe for interviewers to be stationed at trailheads. BSPC should then provide more details about how they will post the existence of an online survey to those entering the trails. Can paper forms or flyers be provided at kiosks or trail sign-in stations? User experiences on trails will be lacking under the methodology provided in the RSP.

Appendix E survey comments

Visitor use survey

  • If all of the visitor use surveys will be conducted electronically, please note that stakeholders may request the full “raw data” at the time of the report, and so this needs to be possible in the electronic format.
  • For questions 7 and 8, you may want to consider responses that would take into account people staying at secondary or vacation homes.
  • Question 13: This question needs to include a rating of river flows. “River Condition” is vague and its meaning unknown; how will responses in this category be interpreted?
  • Question 14. This question about spending money should either be deleted or worded in a way that takes into account the entire outing. For example, “Approximately how much money did you or do you intend to spend in preparation for or in association with your recreational trip to the Bear Swamp project (meals, gas, lodging, equipment, etc.)?
  • Question 16. River flows needs to be included in this question.

Online survey

  • CRWC recommends the following modifications to the map:
    • Deerfield Station No. 5 on the map is confusing. Perhaps this is the powerhouse station and there is discharge here; it is not the No. 5 dam location. If it is necessary on the map, perhaps more information should be included.
    • “Fife Brook Dam” is more understandable a label than “Fife Brook Development.”
    • The Deerfield River should be identified on the map.
  • See comments above, which should be incorporated into the online survey as well.

Instream Flow Assessment

Goals and objectives: The goal of this study as worded is too restrictive. CRWC’s study request stated that, “the goal is to determine an appropriate flow regime that will protect and enhance the aquatic resources from the Fife Brook Station tailrace downstream to upper end of the Deerfield River Project’s Deerfield No. 4 impoundment. Specifically, the objective of the study is to conduct an instream flow habitat assessment of the impacts of a range of flows on the wetted area and optimal habitat for key species, including the impacts of hydropeaking flow fluctuations on the quantity and location of suitable habitat. “

Study area: Since project effects continue downstream past the confluence of the Cold River and habitat changes downstream from the confluence, there is no compelling basis for ending the study area at Cold River confluence. The study area should be expanded to include the Deerfield River to the upstream extent of the Deerfield Dam No. 4 headpond.

Methodology:

The test flows should be determined in consultation with stakeholders.

The number and location of transects should be based on information obtained for the Aquatic Mesohabitat Study, and should be determined in consultation with stakeholders. Five transects is not sufficient.

The study plan needs to identify target species with input from stakeholders.

Schedule: Determination of transects should be built into the schedule.

Fife Brook Flow Attenuation Study

Study Area. Since project effects continue downstream past the confluence of the Cold River and habitat changes downstream from the confluence, there is no compelling basis for ending the study area at Cold River confluence. The study area should be expanded to include the Deerfield River to the upstream extent of the Deerfield Dam No. 4 headpond.

Methodology:

No information has ever been presented as to the location of the eight water level loggers placed in 2014. We would appreciate being able to see these locations in a study plan so as to comment on whether or not the locations are appropriate.

The 2-month period of logger data collected in 2014 is not sufficient to complete the goals of the study. Loggers need to be in place at a time when you are testing the effectiveness of hold points against people making the observations.

CRWC again maintains that there needs to be a controlled-flow element of one of the studies in order to meet the study objectives of this study and others.

The report should include pond level and dam discharge information (at 15-minute intervals) along with level logger data.

Entrainment Evaluation

Background and Existing Information: No existing information has been provided in this section. BSPC argues that there is no known problem and therefore desktop analysis is sufficient. When no data are provided on existing studies, how could there be evidence of a known problem?

Methodology. We continue to recommend a field component, such as ichthyoplankton netting, as part of the evaluation of entrainment at the Bear Swamp Pumped Storage facility, and we refer to our study request submitted on April 16, 2015.

Baseline Study of Freshwater Mussel Species

This study has been added as a new study since the PSP, in response to comments received and original study requests from USFWS, MA DFW, and CRWC submitted in April, 2015.

Goals and Study area. Our original study request stated, “The goal of this study is to characterize the distribution, abundance and species composition of the freshwater mussel community in the upper end of the lower reservoir and in the 17-mile reach of river downstream of the Fife Brook Dam in order to evaluate potential project impacts from current or future operations and maintenance activities.” CRWC continues to recommend a 17-mile study area, not one that ends at the Cold River confluence.

Methodology. CRWC concurs with comments submitted by the MA DFW dated October 14, 2015 regarding survey methods as well as the location and number of survey locations.

 

Studies not proposed in the RSP

Abundance of naturally reproduced trout and distribution of spawning areas in the Deerfield River below Fife Brook Dam

CRWC concurs with comments submitted by the MA DFW dated October 14, 2015 regarding the need and justification for this study. CRWC also supports the comments submitted by the Deerfield River chapter of Trout Unlimited dated October 15, 2015 regarding trout spawning times. CRWC continues to recommend that this study be performed.

Controlled Flow Recreation Study

CRWC still believes that a controlled flow study is a necessary element of looking at project effects on recreation. We submitted a study request on April 16, 2015. We respond below to BSPC’s points raised in section 3.4.2 of the RSP.

Flows in the upper reaches of Fife Brook impoundment.

  • Nexus. As recognized by BSPC on page 3-11 of the RSP, levels within the Fife Brook impoundment can influence whether water delivered by the Deerfield River Project (Dam No. 5) affords whitewater opportunities within the upper reach of the Fife Brook impoundment.
  • Existing information is sufficient to assess Project effects on the recreational access to whitewater features in the upper Fife Brook impoundment. BSPC says that they “propose to examine this [whitewater features in the upper reaches of the impoundment] within the proposed Recreation Survey and Operations Model.” However, the proposed recreation survey as presented in Appendix E of the RSP contains absolutely no questions aimed at understanding river levels and whitewater opportunities in the upper reach of the Fife Brook impoundment. Moreover, according to the RSP in Section 9, the personal interviews are not proposed to be conducted anywhere upstream of the Fife Brook dam other than the Bear Swamp visitor center. In addition, there is no information given in the methodology for the Operations Model study in the RSP that indicates the topographic information of the whitewater features mentioned in the June 2, 2015 response to FERC will be built into the model.

Flows in the Deerfield River below the Fife Brook Dam.

  • Nexus. Clearly there is a nexus between recreational uses of the Deerfield River below the Fife Brook Dam and releases of water at Fife Brook Dam.
  • Existing information is sufficient to assess Project effects on the recreational access to whitewater features in the upper Fife Brook impoundment. BSPC states on page 3-11 of the RSP that, “the whitewater community has participated in more than 1,500 flow releases over 15 years to assess flows in the river reach downstream from Fife Brook Dam.” We refer here to American Whitewater’s comments on the RSP dated October 14, 2015 regarding the existing information. CRWC also notes that our study request for a controlled flow study included elements involving anglers as well. BSPC installed water level loggers in 2014 to understand flow attenuation based on comments from anglers. However, there has never been a study releasing known flows and surveying anglers on the ground about the flows. We need to test known flows and ramping rates on actual experiences in the river for all kinds of users.

 

We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on RSP. I can be reached at 413-772-2020 x.205 or adonlon@ctriver.org.

Sincerely,
Andrea Donlon

River Steward