May 30, 2017
Honorable Kimberly D. Bose Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426
Re: Bear Swamp Project No. 2669
Connecticut River Conservancy Comments on Study Reports filed by March 31, 2017
Dear Secretary Bose,
The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRWC), now doing business as the Connecticut River Conservancy (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 Bear Swamp pumped hydropower project and Fife Brook Dam since the beginning of the process in late 2014. We have reviewed the set of Study Reports that were posted by Bear Swamp Power Company (BSPC) on March 31, 2017. CRC attended the study report meetings held on April 11 and 12, 2017. Below are our comments, which represent the views of CRC and the Deerfield River Watershed Association (DRWA).
Study 1: Water Quality Study
The study report mentions a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) that was revised based on comments from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), who reviewed a draft QAPP. The QAPP was not included as an appendix in the report and was not distributed to stakeholders. CRC recommends that BSPC upload the QAPP and comments on their relicensing website. The RSP dated September 30, 2015, stated, “As part of preparing this QAPP, BSPC will conduct a literature review of existing water quality information and recent reports used in the MADEP’s February 2015 aquatic life use re-designation.” The resulting report gives no indication if a literature review was ever done, or if the MassDEP designation was evaluated.
Dissolved Oxygen (DO) was measured at one site in the lower impoundment to see if the lower reservoir undergoes thermal and/or DO stratification. The RSP stated that this site would have a continuous logger, and also be measured at 5 foot depth intervals by discrete sampling, monthly between May and June and September to November, but biweekly in July and August. Some of the graphs in Appendix D do show the DO going to zero in some of the profiles. The continuous logger data also showed results at zero, but this was explained in the report as being due to the logger hitting the bottom. It seems that the method for securing the deep site was flawed, and did not take into account the 40-foot elevation fluctuation of the impoundment. CRC believes the DO results are not conclusive due to the sampling methods.
Table 5-2 indicates that between the upper extent of the lower reservoir and the Fife Brook tailrace, water temperatures increased by 6-9 degrees F during July, August, and early September. During the study report meeting in April, it was explained that the upper extent of the lower reservoir site was located upstream of the location where the Deerfield No. 5 dam tailrace discharges. Nevertheless, the temperature fluctuations at the upper extent of the lower reservoir site mimicked the pattern of the lower reservoir pond elevation fluctuations. Although the study was carried out in a way to make it difficult to parse out the thermal effects of Fife Brook Dam impoundment alone, CRC believes the impoundment does increase the temperature of the water flowing out of Fife Brook Dam.
Results from 2016 show that water temperature often exceeded Cold Water standards (Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards, 314 CMR 4.00) during July and August, downstream of Fife Brook Dam at multiple locations.
DO results described on page 11 indicate that minimum flow requirements are not sufficient to maintain DO levels that meet state water quality standards downstream of the site at Purinton Road.
The discrete sampling data points do not include a time of day that the readings were taken. It’s therefore impossible to compare the discrete samples with the logger data for the time of the discrete sample.
CRC recommendations: In order to comply with the RSP and to fulfill the objectives of the study, CRC has the following recommendations:
- The QAPP should be distributed to stakeholders
- The literature review should be provided to stakeholders.
- The time of the day for the discrete sampling points should be provided.
Study 2: Fish Assemblage Assessment Study
Despite the popularity of trout fishing in the Deerfield River, the fish assemblage assessment study found few trout. CRC believes that the Bear Swamp studies have not adequately characterized the effects of project operations on trout species present in the Deerfield River. We have in the past requested a trout redd survey, and we continue to believe such a study would be useful to understand project effects on trout redds.
Study 10: Instream Flow Assessment
Bear Swamp’s Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30, 2015, stated that the report prepared under this study will, “Apply and integrate findings of the Instream Flow Assessment field work with germane aspects of the Mesohabitat Mapping, Operations Water Budget Model, Fife Brook Flow Attenuation Study, DAIP, existing biological information, as well as that of other studies proposed in this RSP to examine the benefits and value of today’s Fife Brook minimum flow as well as the attributes of the two additional flows of 200 cfs and 275 cfs.” The report did not integrate any biological information into the results of the study. We are left with a study that shows that at higher flows, there is more water in the river at the transects. This is not helpful for stakeholders to use for evaluating possible alternative minimum flows.
CRC recommendation: CRC requests that this study be modified to include biological information related to the flow results in this study, as stated in the RSP, pursuant to 18 C.F.R. § 5.15(d)(1).
Study 13: State-listed Odonates Survey
CRWC obtained a copy of the odonate survey report from MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and we reviewed it. We feel that MA DFW’s comments submitted on May 26, 2017 sufficiently address concerns about project effects on state-listed odonates.
Study 16: Fife Brook Impoundment Access and Portage Feasibility Study
Bear Swamp’s Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30, 2015 did not include this study. The study was conducted based on FERC’s Study Plan Determination (SPD) dated October 30, 2015. The SPD required a study that contained 5 required elements. Methods were not prescribed. The resulting study did not include stakeholder consultation. During the study report meeting held on April 11, 2017, it became clear in the discussion that there is interest among stakeholders to access the impoundment for boat-based fishing, and to paddle a larger section of the upper reaches of the impoundment. Allowing stakeholders on site during the field reconnaissance stage of the study could have potentially led to different, or revised, options listed in Table 5-1 of the report. Because the impoundment is gated off, stakeholders are unable to conduct their own visit independently without trespassing. This inhibits us to provide meaningful input on the report.
CRC recommendation: CRC recommends that this study report be considered a draft, and that BSPC conduct a second field reconnaissance visit with a stakeholder group that include anglers, hikers, and whitewater boaters. After this visit, BSPC should prepare a revised study report.
Study 18: Warning System Effectiveness Study
The RSP dated September 30, 2015 did not include this study. The study was conducted based on FERC’s Study Plan Determination (SPD) dated October 30, 2015. The SPD required a study to measure the audibility in decibel levels of the warning system horn at half mile intervals downstream of Fife Brook dam to a point where it is no longer audible to the human ear.
The resulting study had the following results: 1) the horn was audible to humans at the site located 0.4 miles downstream from the dam, but not at any of the other sites (second closest site was 1.16 miles below the dam), and 2) the sound level of the siren was not noticeably elevated above the decibel level of ambient noise conditions at any of the monitoring locations, according to the meters used in the study. In addition, a passing train confounded results in August, but represent a real, albeit intermittent, background noise in the area. Result #2 could explain why some anglers complain of the alarm not having been sounded, despite BSPC’s practice of sounding the alarm every time there is a release.
CRC recommendations. CRC does not have expertise to evaluate the equipment used in the study, but the study appears to have been done in a manner consistent with FERC’s SPD. However, what makes a sound audible has do with how loud it is (measured in decibels), and also the frequency of the sound, measured in hertz. The study involved no measurements of the frequency of the background noises vs. the alarm sound, because the SPD did not specifically request it. The study results nevertheless help interpret why some anglers complain of the alarm not having been sounded, despite BSPC’s practice of sounding the alarm every time there is a release.
When BSPC prepares a draft license application, we recommend that a more effective warning system be proposed. We recommend that BSPC follow International Standard (ISO) 7731 for auditory danger signals. The results of the flow attenuation study and discussions with recreational users should contribute to the plan for where and how recreational users can be adequately warned of quickly changing water levels. Because people of all ages and abilities paddle and fish on the river, BSPC should assume that there are recreational users who are hearing impaired.
Note: FERC’s “Guidelines for Public Safety at Hydropower Facilities” dated 1992 (https://www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/safety/guidelines/public-safety.pdf) do not provide much guidance on standards for audibility of alarms. Ontario Minister of the Environment’s “Public Safety Around Dams: Best Management Practices” dated 2011 (online at http://www.owa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Public-Safety-Around-Dams-MNRF-BMP.pdf) in Section 5.3.2 provides more details and guidance for facilities, and could be a useful resource.
Study 19: Whitewater Boating Flow Study
Bear Swamp’s Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30, 2015 did not include this study. The study was conducted based on FERC’s Study Plan Determination (SPD) dated October 30, 2015. The SPD recommended that BSPC conduct a controlled whitewater flow study at four flows, one at 700 cfs, one lower flow, and two higher flows. The resulting study tested four flows, one at 700 cfs (which is lower than the 800cfs that is typically released under current recreational operations), and at three higher flows: 900 cfs, 1100 cfs, and 1300 cfs.
One CRC staff person and several member/volunteers participated as tubers/boaters in this study, which we feel was carried out well.
The SPD stated that the, “report for this study should: (1) summarize the whitewater boating attributes of each flow for each boat type (e.g., difficulty, unique features), (2) present the acceptable and optimal flow for each boat type, and (3) discuss results from other studies and identify any competing recreational uses (e.g., fishing) or other resource needs (e.g., aquatic habitat) that may be adversely affected by scheduled releases.”
The study report did not summarize results by boat type. The study report did not identify any competing recreational uses or resource needs that may be adversely affected by scheduled releases. In addition, the study area was divided into three different reaches and no results were summarized by reach.
CRC recommendation: CRC requests that this study be modified pursuant to 18 C.F.R. § 5.15(d)(1) to comply with the report components FERC specified in the SPD, and to look at results by study reach.
CRC and DRWA appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the studies submitted on March 31, 2017. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 772-2020 x.205.
Andrea F. Donlon