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.
- TransCanada declined conducting geotechnical slope analysis for this study because they considered it premature and related to mitigation.. CRC disagrees and believes that geotechnical slope analysis would be an effective tool for analysis to fulfill objectives of the study: characterize the processes of erosion, and ascertain the likely causes of erosion. If we are to have mitigation discussions later in the ILP process, we will have no geotechnical data that may guide these discussions. An added observation about this mitigation claim is that no one, neither FERC, the company, nor the stakeholders has had one word of discussion about mitigation for project effects and as near as CRC can tell there is not time identified in the ILP schedule when those discussions might take place. We seem to be saving this discussion for a forum that has not and may never materialize.
Recommendation: See the Princeton Hydro’s technical peer review memo for recommendations regarding how TransCanada can correct this shortcoming, and why TransCanada should modify Study 2-3 to address this lack of data and analysis.
- An omission in Studies 2 and 3 is the lack of any support information at all about the statement in the last paragraph that “normal project operations have changed little in several decades.” CRC specifically asked that since ‘several decades’ is a pretty loose description of time and since during the last three decades the electric power industry has deregulated and operates in a manner different from the time before deregulation TransCanada should present data to support such a statement. Despite there being no mention in their meeting summary, CRC asked this question and elicited a response from TransCanada that they would address our concern.
Recommendation: TransCanada should provide stakeholders with data showing project operations over the past 25 years that documents their claim of unchanged project operations as stated in the last paragraph of the report. This is in compliance with §5.15(b) and TransCanada assured qualification of that statement at the meeting August 25, 2016 (meeting summary pg 11).
- There is no correlation of erosion with land cover despite specific mention at two of the stakeholder meetings that land use and the lack of riparian zones are part of the cause of erosion. TransCanada noted that, “a GIS line file was created for the presence or absence of riparian vegetation by hand-digitizing the locations of riparian vegetation as viewed on 2010 digital orthophotographs available through NH Granit (Web citation 8),” but there is no analysis and correlation between problematic land uses and erosion sites creating another blank in the analysis of erosion causation. See meeting summary October 1, 2015 meeting question on pg 14.
Recommendation: TransCanada has the needed information and therefore should revise the report and make those correlations available to the stakeholders as requested at the October 1, 2016 meeting.
- The study claims that the “magnitude of water surface fluctuations in the study area is less than 2 ft. for 75% of the study area’s length, so hydraulic gradients between groundwater levels in the bank and the adjacent river level are likely small (page 111 Executive Summary, Study 2 and Study 3 Report). However small the gradient might be, it was incumbent on TransCanada to evaluate the effect of piping as the expression of the difference in gradient in creating the first stage of erosion, water edge notches.
Recommendation: TransCanada should revise the report and analyze the effects of the differences in the gradient of ground water and WSE changes (pg ES 3 Study 2-3)ascertain the likely causes of erosion (e.g., high flows, groundwater seeps, eddies, water level fluctuations related to project operations),” so TransCanada did not conduct the study as provided for in the approved study plan.
- With regard to Aquatic Habitat, the Study 2-3 report references Study 8 but acknowledges that the Study 2-3 did not quantify the effect of fine-grained riverbank materials on increased embeddedness of coarse-grained spawning substrates in the project reservoirs. CRC has twice commented on the lack of any analysis of the loss of habitat to the sediment caused by shoreland erosion and other sources of sediment. With the completion of the studies at this point, we still have no idea of the impact of erosion on loss of habitat.
Recommendation: TransCanada should continue gathering and analyzing data to determine the effects of project operations on the loss of aquatic habitat. This does not square with the Study 3 goal “identify the effects of shoreline erosion on other resources (e.g., aquatic habitat),” so TC did not conduct the study as provided for in the approved study plan.
- According to the RSP: “An interim study report will be prepared after the first year of study is complete synthesizing the above deliverables into a narrative that addresses the study goals and issues raised in various study requests. The report will be provided to stakeholders for review and comment.” (Page 25 RSP Study 2), and “The interim study report will be prepared after the first year of study is complete. The report will be provided to stakeholders for review and comment.” (page 36 RSP Study 3) TransCanada did not provide any Interim Reports for Study 2 and Study 3 to the Erosion Working Group for review and comment so it was not possible to have working group comments on the interim report included in the August 1 report.
Recommendation: FERC should recognize this review period ending August 1, 2016 as the interim review that was mentioned in the RSP, 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 comment on as the final study. This is in compliance with §5.15(b) and the RSP. The Initial Study Report (ISR) dated 9/15/14 and the Updated Study Report (USR) dated 9/14/15 were short updates on study progress, and were not interim reports.
Beyond these comments, we reference and include the attached memorandum, Peer-Review of ILP Study 2 and Study 3 Riverbank Transect and Riverbank Erosion Studies prepared by Princeton Hydro for other specific issues CRC feels FERC should address at this stage and in the upcoming license renewal.
Studies 14-15: Resident Fish Spawning in Impoundments and Riverine Sections
It seems ironic that the report offers Figure 4.1-4 solely as an example of the vertical orientation of perch egg masses because it is a view of dewatered eggs. It is also a picture of what fishers in the Bellows Falls area see in the setbacks north of the Bellows Falls dam every year. That sight concerns them greatly.
CRC agrees with the VT Fish &Wildlife Department that egg laying and maturity are a function of water temperature much more than of the day on the calendar. TransCanada needs to base operations on temperature — not the day of the month during spring and fall spawning periods. Yellow perch is a favored game fish and the high loss of eggs should prescribe a change in operations during the spawn.
Study 21: American Shad Telemetry
CRC supports the recommendations from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the VT Fish & Wildlife Department that TransCanada needs to do further work relative to measuring the actual success rate of the passage of fish at the project fish ladders. The report also needs to resolve how the information is present so there is less confusion about what it means that a shad or any other fish passed the dam using the ladder.
FERC should require TransCanada to modify Studies 2-3 consistently with the attached Peer Review, our requests for revisions in the study report and these comments. FERC should acknowledge the comments regarding Studies 14, 15, and 21.
CRC would like to thank FERC for the opportunity to comment on these studies. The balance of the other studies we have already commented on or find that they provide sufficient information. It would be helpful to hear back from FERC about issues raised in these and other stakeholder comments.
David L. Deen, River Steward Andrea Donlon River Steward
Connecticut River Watershed Council Connecticut River Watershed Council
Princeton Hydro Peer Review
Princeton Hydro resumes