September 29, 2016
Honorable Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426
Re: Wilder Dam Project No. 1892
Bellows Falls Project No. 1855
Vernon Dam Project No. 1904
Connecticut River Watershed Council Comments on TransCanada August 1, 2016 Study Reports; Request for Study Modification to Require Compliance with the RSP.
Dear Secretary Bose,
The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRC) is a nonprofit citizen group established in 1952 to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed. We have been participating in the relicensing of the five hydropower facilities on the Connecticut River since the beginning of the process in late 2012. We have reviewed the set of Study Reports posted by TransCanada on August 1, 2016. CRC attended the study report meeting held on August 24, 2016. Below are our comments on several of the studies. Included as part of these comments, is the Peer-Review of ILP Study 2 and Study 3 Riverbank Transect and Riverbank Erosion Studies prepared by Princeton Hydro (attached) (“Peer Review”).
- Study Dispute and Request for Study Modifications
These comments and the attached Peer Review demonstrate that numerous, significant aspects of Studies 2-3 were conducted: (1) in violation of the Revised Study Report (RSP) dated August 14, 2013 and approved with modifications from FERC on September 13, 2013; (2) failed to rely on generally accepted scientific methods; and/or (3) otherwise reached conclusions that the science, data or evidence do not support. Accordingly, some conclusions are invalid. CRC requests that these studies be modified pursuant to 18 C.F.R. § 5.15(a) and (d) (1) to fully address these comments and the Peer Review. Portions of the Studies 2-3 Report, as detailed in the comments below and the attached Peer Review, should be revised or redone. Where appropriate, TransCanada should modify the study conclusions based on the revisions.
Individually or together, violations of the RSP, the failure to adhere to generally accepted science, failing to ground properly conclusions in the data and evidence, providing invalid conclusions, all provide good cause to modify studies. The Peer Review details how each of the several faults in Studies 2-3 violates the RSP or otherwise provides good cause for modification. The following comments do the same. Indeed, these faults and failures are significant and skewed Studies 2-3’s outcomes and conclusions, providing further good cause for modification. As detailed in the Peer Review and comments, study modification is required to assess properly the Projects’ actual impacts on water quality, habitat, and the environment.
Studies 2-3: Riverbank Transect and Riverbank Erosion
CRC hired consulting engineering firm Princeton Hydro (http://www.princetonhydro.com/) and Dr. Melinda Daneils of the Stroud Water Research Center to conduct a peer review of this study report. Based on the peer review, CRC requests that TransCanada modify Studies 2-3 as follows:
- TransCanada should incorporate hydraulic modeling results from Study 4 into Study 2 – 3, and analyze the results to assess the relationship between shear stress and riverbank erosion, as proposed in the RSP.
- TransCanada should revise Study 2 and Study 3 to identify the effects of shoreline erosion on riparian areas and shoreline wetlands, rare plant and animal populations, water quality, and aquatic and terrestrial wildlife habitat, as stated in the RSP.
- FERC should consider the August 1, 2016 Study 2 – 3 report to be the interim report and that the Erosion Working Group’s current review of the Combined Study 2 -3 be integrated into a revised study that the Erosion Working Group is then able to review as the final study, as proposed in the RSP.
- TransCanada should formally meet with the erosion working group as necessary to consider its comments and revise Study 2- 3 report to reflect those comments, as proposed in the RSP.
- TransCanada should extend the cross-section monitoring beyond the two-year monitoring period proposed in the RSP given that the Study itself suggests that this period was not long enough to analyze the “cycle of erosion” at all sites. This is a conclusion that is a product of the RSP so the fieldwork should continue until TransCanada collects sufficient data to measure erosion changes over time.
- TransCanada should analyze how water surface elevation (WSE) fluctuations increase the vertical range on the bank exposed to additional erosive forces such as boat waves, piping, and ice jams, that are all issues identified in the RSP.
- TransCanada should revise the report and present an analysis of the effects of the differences in the gradient of ground water and WSE changes.
- TransCanada should re-evaluate the existing data with respect to these important factors (i.e., methodology used, groundwater elevations, and surrounding land use) to “ascertain the relative importance of water-level fluctuations associated with project operations in the erosion process relative to other contributing factors” as per the RSP (page 21, RSP Study 2).
- TransCanada should revise the report to add data supporting their claim that “normal project operations that have changed little in several decades” that appears in the last paragraph in the report.
- TransCanada should revise the report and formulate correlations between riparian buffers and erosion sites. TransCanada response dated 6/1/2016 to the comments on Study 1 (submitted March 1, 2016) stated, “Study 3 will include data on presence or absence of riparian buffer on most recent aerial photographs and relate it to erosion mapped in 2014; however, such an analysis was beyond the approved scope of Studies 1-3.” Stakeholders expected this analysis to be part of the study.
- TransCanada should modify Studies 2-3 as otherwise detailed in the attached Peer Review.
These modifications are required to comply with the RSP, and to assure scientific integrity and valid conclusions. These are important departures from standards and requirements mandated by the RSP, and therefore provide good cause for these modifications.
CRC has the following additional comments based on our review:
- These studies were supposed to be a package of information that would show the history of erosion at all three projects AND show an analysis of causation of the erosion along the entire reach of river affected by the projects. That is not what the project owner presented to the stakeholders with these studies.
Throughout the conversations of plan development/revision/review TransCanada knew that CRC and other stakeholders wanted an analysis that lead to a conclusion of either none/partial/full responsibility on the part of TransCanada operations relative to flows and WSE as a cause or partial cause of erosion. The stakeholders thought the experts were supposed to design a plan that got us there and yet the Study 2 -3 report avoids providing any answer to the basic, often stated, clear, and consistent question from the stakeholders. The statement in the goals of Study 2 framed our expectations: “whether water level fluctuations, described in terms of magnitude, periodicity and duration, and increased shear stresses resulting from project operations are correlated with erosion in project-affected areas.”
Recommendation: TransCanada should revise the Study 2-3 report to make those connections and evaluate the effects of project operations on erosion as was envisioned in the RSP despite the claim by TC at the August 25, 2016 meeting that that was not the intent of the study (pg. 11). They only referenced a 1979 study done by the USACE. This certainly is not an answer to the unfulfilled expectations of the stakeholders and TransCanada did not conduct the study as provided for in the approved study plan.