August 28, 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 Proposed Study Plan (PSP)

Dear Secretary Bose,

The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (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. The Deerfield River is a major tributary to the Connecticut River that flows through southern Vermont and Berkshire and Franklin counties in Massachusetts. We are aware that the Nature Conservancy is working with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Geological Survey, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst on a series of basin-wide flow models for the Connecticut River watershed, and according to preliminary model results, the Deerfield is one of the most heavily flow-altered locations in the Connecticut River watershed on a daily scale (i.e., not taking into account sub-daily/hourly variation), which includes the mainstem river (K. Kennedy, TNC, personal communication). A study that is part of this work (Zimmerman, et al., 2010) looked at sub-daily flow alteration and identified the Deerfield River flows as being “severely impacted.” As such, this relicensing process is of interest to CRWC and its members.
CRWC submitted comments on the Pre-Application Document (PAD) as well as study requests in our letter dated April 16, 2015. Bear Swamp Power Company (BSPC) filed the Proposed Study Plan (PSP) on June 2, 2015 and held meetings in Greenfield Massachusetts on July 29 and 30, 2015. CRWC attended the meetings on both days and provided verbal feedback along with other stakeholders.

GLOBAL COMMENTS

In general, the level of detail provided in the PSP was not sufficient to understand what the applicant intends to do in each study. If the study plan serves as the “contract” describing what the study will entail, more details are needed for stakeholders to understand the intentions of each study. Perhaps more details will be provided in the Revised Study Plan (RSP), but the Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) allows for only a 2-week review time of the RSP, and it is preferable to start out with a good description of each study to promote better review and discussion during the PSP review and meetings.

18 CFR 5.11(d)(4) requires the applicant’s PSP must “explain the nexus between project operations and effects (direct, indirect, and/or cumulative) on the resource to be studied.” All of the studies proposed in the BSPC PSP had a section called project nexus, but none of them described any link between the resource to be studied and project operations.

18 CFR 5.11(d)(6) requires that the applicant include in the PSP “considerations of level of effort and cost.” BSPC’s PSP contained no cost information at all, nor a description of the level of effort. Given the low level of detail provided in each study plan, having a cost associated with the study would give a hint as to the level of effort contemplated. Additionally, stakeholders were required to describe the level of effort and cost in our study requests. The only way stakeholders can provide an estimate of the costs of our study requests is through publication of costs by applicants. CRWC is involved in the Connecticut River relicensing process now, and both TransCanada and FirstLight provided estimated costs for each of their studies in the PSPs from 2013. We do not understand why the costs in this PSP are a secret.

BSPC in their PSP and in the PSP meeting repeatedly cited the 1994 Deerfield Settlement Agreement as a constraint on this present relicensing effort, and a reason not to conduct certain elements of requested studies. The 1994 Settlement Agreement at Section C stated that, “The Parties agree that this Settlement fairly and appropriately balances the environmental, recreational, fishery, energy, and other uses and interest serviced by the Deerfield River. The Parties further agree that this balance is specific to the Deerfield River Project. No Party shall be deemed, by virtue of participation in this Settlement, to have established precedent, or admitted or consented to any approach, methodology, or principle except as expressly provided herein.” (emphasis ours) We reference this quote to stress that the 1994 Settlement Agreement did not involve a detailed analysis or balance of interests related to the operation of Bear Swamp and Fife Brook, which was not up for relicensing at that time. We regard our study requests and comments in this letter as being appropriate to the relicensing effort at hand, which is the only opportunity we have had to comprehensively look at the balance of interests regarding the operation of Bear Swamp and Fife Brook for the past 40 years. CRWC was not involved in the 1994 Settlement Agreement negotiations. Because it has been noted that increased subdaily flow variation downstream of dams has been shown to have adverse effects on aquatic and riparian biota in the Connecticut River basin and elsewhere (Zimmerman, 2010), now is the time to look at those impacts in the context of relicensing the Bear Swamp and Fife Brook projects.

Water Quality Study Plan

Study Area.
As we discussed in the PSP meeting, CRWC continues to recommend that the study area include the section of the Deerfield River all the way down to the upstream extent of the Deerfield No. 4 impoundment. While it is true that the hydropower projects upstream of Fife Brook Dam impact flows in the entire Deerfield system, the timing and magnitude of flows downstream of Fife Brook are affected by the operation of Fife Brook and Bear Swamp.

Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards at 314 CMR 4.05(b)(2) establish that Class B waters shall not exceed 68° (20°C) based on the mean of the daily maximum temperature over a seven day period in cold water fisheries, unless naturally occurring. The Deerfield River from the Vermont state line to the North River is listed in Table 5 of 314 CMR 4.06 as being a Class B cold water fishery. Data from Cole (2013) (see memorandum attachment to Trout Unlimited’s letter) indicates that the average of August 2013 daily maximum water temperatures at river mile 25 (located between Fife Brook and Deerfield No. 4) exceeded 20°C, and therefore may not be meeting the state water quality standard for temperature in that section of river. We see a nexus between water quality in that section and operation of the facility undergoing relicensing, and therefore it is relevant to look at temperature and dissolved oxygen in this section.
Project operation. A nexus between project operations and water quality should be described.

Methodology. 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. More detail is needed on the schedule, including the date that the final report will be issued. Review of the QAPP should be provided in the timeline. The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.

Fish Assemblage Assessment Study Plan

Study area. The study area should be expanded to include the entire project-affected reach. In other words, the downstream extent of the study area should be the head of upstream extent of the Deerfield No. 4 headpond.

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

Methodology.

One of the stated objectives of the study is to document federally listed RTE species, invasive species, and attributes such as redds, mussel beds, or shell material. The methodology section in the PSP has no description of how these objectives will be met. During the PSP meeting, the stakeholders were united in stressing that the objectives would be best met with specific methodologies, not by observation while doing the fish surveys.

Page 5-7 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.
CRWC recommends that the Aquatic Mesohabitat assessment and mapping be partially completed before the fish assemblage field work is started.

The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.

Aquatic Mesohabitat Assessment and Mapping

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

Methodology. One of the stated objectives of the study is to document attributes such as redds, mussel beds, or shell material observed during aquatic mesohabitat mapping. However, the methodology describes nothing about doing a subsurface investigation.

Schedule and Level of Effort.
More details on the schedule should be provided. Consultation with stakeholders should be built into the schedule.
The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.

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. The bald eagle population in Massachusetts has been increasing during the last couple of decades, and over the term of the next license, it is likely that eagles will be roosting in the project area.

Recreation Survey

Goals and objectives: One of the stated goals of the study is to identify PM&E measures that could be implemented to enhance recreation or mitigate project effects on recreation. There is nothing in the study plan that indicates how BSPC will do this. On page 9-13 of the RSP, the listed Recreation Survey Report sections give no indication that PM&E measures will be included in the final report.

Study Area. CRWC believes that the appropriate study area includes down to the upstream extent of 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.

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

Methodology.
Collection of visitor use data. Some information is lacking on the methodology for the surveys, personal interviews, field reconnaissance, interviews with industry professionals and law enforcement, or photo documentation.
Personal interviews as described in section 9.6.3.1 should begin at sunrise and end at sunset to capture all users.
The PSP indicates that there will be personal interviews at Project recreation facilities, an online survey, and interviews with recreation industry professionals and law enforcement officials. The PSP included no draft survey questions. The content and wording of survey questions are a critical element of this study. For the Connecticut River projects, we requested and received a stand-alone meeting just to go over the questions as a group. We request that BSPC provide and allow adequate discussion of the survey questions that will be part of this study. See our study request dated April 16, 2015, in which we identified key issues to be addressed in the survey instruments. Some of the issues we identified were not listed as topics on page 9-10 of the PSP.
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.
CRWC still believes that a controlled flow study is a necessary element of looking at project effects on recreation. This would involve having actual paddlers, as well as anglers, out on the river during specific flows and gathering information in the form of a survey.

Schedule and level of effort.
More details on the schedule should be provided. CRWC requests that the inventory of recreation sites be provided in the ISR.
The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.

Operations Model

Goals and Objectives. As discussed at the PSP meeting, the goals and objectives need to be changed for this study. During the PSP meeting, stakeholders stressed that the operations model needs to be able to run scenarios that would test alternatives to the 125 cfs minimum flow. At this point, nobody knows what scenarios might be run, but we don’t want to run only a single scenario. The Deerfield Project (P-2323) relicensing effort did not involve any analysis of the operations of Fife Brook/Bear Swamp. CRWC believes it would make sense for FERC to synchronize the relicensing process of the entire Deerfield system, but in the meantime, the present relicensing effort is the only time and opportunity to look at operations at FifeBrook and Bear Swamp in close detail.

It is not just environmental agencies and organizations that feel BSPC is constraining the relicensing process too much by citing the Deerfield Settlement Agreement. TransCanada’s letter submitted on April 19, 2015 stated, “We dispute BSPC’s contention that they have no flexibility or opportunity to operate the project independent from our DRP [Deerfield River Project] inflow. TransCanada suggests with equal emphasis that while the DRP does operate in a hydro-peaking mode in various locations, it is not responsible for the hydro-peaking operation of the BSHP which is the focus of this relicensing.” (emphasis same as in TransCanada letter).

Project Nexus. Delete sentence, “Accordingly, this study will be limited to examining …” Delete final sentence of the section, “Similarly, BSPC does not envision modeling “what if” scenarios that rely upon change to the existing Settlement and DRP license.”

Methodology.
CRWC recommends that water level loggers be installed to ground truth the model.
Historical operational data should include the period 2005 to 2014.
More details need to be provided as to the content of the report for this study.
We agree with USFWS’s recommendation during the meeting that it may make more sense for the Flow Regime Working Group to meet between the ISR and the USR rather than starting in early 2016.
Schedule and level of effort. The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.

Instream Flow Assessment

Study area: The study area should be expanded downstream to the upstream extent of the Deerfield No. 4 impoundment.

Methodology:
The PSP states that, “Today’s Fife Brook minimum flow was successfully determined by the Settlement parties absent an IFIM study.” The Settlement Agreement resulted in a change to Bear Swamp’s license and minimum flow, but it was an ancillary issue and should provide no justification for avoiding an IFIM study now, when the facility is currnetly up for relicensing. Those stakeholders present at the PSP meetings who were involved in the Deerfield Settlement unanimously stressed that there was no real scientific analysis of the Bear Swamp minimum flows at the time of the Deerfield Settlement.
Future iterations of this study plan needs to identify target species with input from stakeholders.

Fife Brook Flow Attenuation Study

Study Area. The study area should be expanded to include the section of the Deerfield River downstream of the project area to the upstream extend of the Deerfield No. 4 impoundment.

Methodology:
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.

Schedule and level of effort.

Although we recommend collecting new logger data, if the study still uses the 2014 data, we don’t see why the level logger analysis can’t be done earlier than the third quarter of 2016.
The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.
Entrainment Evaluation

Methodology.
The third sub-bullet under the second bullet should cite the Fish Assemblage study rather than the Aquatic Species Composition and Relative Abundance Study, which is not proposed in the PSP.
We continue to recommend a field component, such as ichthyoplankton netting, as part of the evaluation of entrainment at Bear Swamp, and we refer to our study request submitted on April 16, 2015.

Schedule and level of effort.
The ISR should contain results of the Fish Assemblage study, as well as the physical parameters of the facilities to be used on the desktop entrainment analysis so that stakeholders can adequately review the inputs to the study before the final version is written.
The cost of the study needs to be included so that stakeholders understand the level of effort contemplated by BSPC.

Studies not proposed in the PSP
We continue to recommend the trout spawning study and the baseline mussel survey we recommended in our study request letter dated April 16, 2015.
With regard to BSPC’s rationale on pages 3-11 to 3-12 for not conducting the mussel survey, we point out that the Nedeau (2008) book was a compilation of known information at the time, not a study, and the book on page 27 states, “Our understanding of freshwater mussel distribution in the Connecticut River watershed is a work in progress; a goal of producing this publication is to raise awareness and compel people to survey new areas and contribute to conservation.” The Nedeau (2008) book repeatedly cites dams as a major threat to mussel populations. The nexus is there. No evidence of a problem does not demonstrate that there is no problem when there is a lack of data to begin with.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on PSP. I can be reached at 413-772-2020 x.205 or adonlon@ctriver.org.
Sincerely,
Andrea Donlon
River Steward

Attachment: Zimmerman (2010) study