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CRC comments on Bear Swamp Initial Study Report

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CRC comments on Bear Swamp Initial Study Report

  • CRC

December 20, 2016

 

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 Initial Study Report dated October 31, 2016

Comments on the Initial Study Report Meeting Summary dated November 28, 2016

Trout Spawning Survey Study Request

 

Dear Secretary Bose,

The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRC) 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.  We love to celebrate the River and its tributaries.  We attended the Initial Study Report Meetings held on November 14 and 15, 2016.  Below are our comments on the October 31, 2016 Initial Study Report (ISR) and November 28, 2016 Initial Study Meeting Summary submitted by Bear Swamp Power Company (BSPC).

We have limited our comments to several of the study reports that have been completed thus far.  In addition, we are requesting one new study.

Fife Brook Flow Attenuation Study

The purpose of this study is to document the flow attenuation characteristics of the Deerfield River downstream of the Fife Brook Dam and to apply this information to inform safety, minimum flow, and aquatic/terrestrial considerations.

The study involved placing water level loggers at eight locations within the 7.5 mile reach below the Fife Brook Dam between August 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014.  Water levels were recorded in 15-minute intervals and compared against the U.S. Geological Survey gage on the Deerfield River in Charlemont, MA located 12 miles downstream of Fife Brook Dam.

As described on page 11 of the Flow Attenuation Study Report, BSPC provides a hold (ramp) point for approximately 15 minutes by holding generation at the 3 MW level.  As noted in the report, 3 MW corresponds to varying flow rates depending on the elevation of the impoundment at the time of the release.  The hold point was done to address angler safety concerns about getting out of the river at the beginning of a ramping flow release.

The report contains all the water level logger data in Appendix C, graphed in 2-day increments.  The main part of the report contains two figures (5-3 and 5-4) showing graphs for two individual days in greater detail, August 21, 2014 (a Thursday) from 6:30 AM to 12:30 PM, and September 14, 2014 (a Sunday) from 10:15 AM to 4:45 PM.  Both graphs were identified as representing ramp up to generation.

CRC comments and recommendations:

  1. The primary focus of the study was to see how the 15-minute hold point attenuates down river. Accordingly, loggers that record once every 15 minutes would not necessarily record to a fine enough detail to see how this safety measure performs.  The loggers could have made their one recording anywhere in the 15-minute period of the ramp hold.  Therefore, this study was not designed to adequately see how the safety mechanism performs.
  2. The only figures provided showing the graphs in details were Figures 5-3 and 5-4. These dates appear to be selectively picked as the only two dates in the entire two months during which it’s possible to see, even in Appendix C graphs, that the ramp-up rate looked like there was a hitch in the upward climb in river elevation.  Graphs like Figures 5-3 and 5-4 should have been provided for the entire study period, or the Excel files posted for stakeholder review.
  3. The report should have identified in some way which dates represent whitewater flow releases and which dates represent ramping due to peak generation. Does BSPC do the 15-minute ramping hold in both instances, or only for generation?  If for both, do they perform differently from an angler safety point of view?
  4. The Study Report contained only one of five components listed in the Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30, 2015, under Section 14.6.2, Data Analysis and Reporting. When asked about this during the ISR meeting, BSPS indicated that these items were better addressed during the preliminary license proposal.  If that is the case, we’re not sure why they were listed by the company and described in the RSP.  CRC believes the study was not completed as required in the RSP, and there should either be an amendment to the Study Report, or an acknowledgement that this was a significant variance from the RSP.
  5. Hardy anglers use the river close to year-round. The study was conducted only during August and September.  The study may have captured how flows respond to peaking during those months.  We don’t know whether there are different patterns that may have been picked up during other months that don’t have whitewater releases.
  6. Based on our analysis of the results, and some additional graphs shown by the consultant on the second day of the ISR study meeting, it appears that the 15-minute ramping hold does not actually accomplish the goal of being a way of “warning” anglers that the ramping flows are coming down river soon. The ramping appears to cause the river to rise steadily from the very beginning, and is not slowed down by the 15-minute ramp hold.   Because of this, CRC will be looking to BSPC to propose alternate methods of holding ramping rates or notifying anglers to achieve the desired safety outcomes.

 

Freshwater Mussel Survey

The field surveys found no mussels.  Notwithstanding certain characteristics of the Deerfield watershed, the Deerfield River is lacking in mussels compared to other Connecticut River tributaries.  CRC believes that the complete absence of mussels in the study area indicates a project effect or a cumulative effect from the Deerfield River Project (P-2323) and Bear Swamp/Fife Brook, not to mention all of the dams in Deerfield River tributaries.  The dams fragment the habitat, block movement of native fish, alter thermal regimes in the river, create impoundments that result in loss of riverine species, and create unnaturally high flow variations from hydropower peaking and recreational flows.

Angler Wading Study

Our single comment on this study report is that one of the five anglers who participated in the study was a consultant hired by BSPC.  This detail should have been noted more prominently in the report.  Three of the five participants were professional guides/outfitters.  Therefore, only one participant was a nonprofessional angler who did not work for the company.

Study Request:  Trout Spawning Survey

Consistent with 18 CFR §5.15(c), we are requesting a new study, a trout spawning survey.  The study request is included as an attachment to this comment letter.

Parts (1) and (4) of 18 CFR §5.15(c) are not applicable to our request.

(2) Why the goals and objectives of any approved study could not be met with the approved study methodology.

BSPC has completed the field work for its Fish Assemblage Assessment Study.  In Section 5.6 of the RSP, BSPC committed to conduct two sampling events – late spring/early summer (May 15-June 30) and late summer/early fall (August 15-September 30).  A length-frequency analysis will be completed for trout species to separate age groups into young-of-year (YOY), yearling, and those age 2 years and over.  During the ISR meeting, stakeholders disagreed that most trout spawning occurs in tributaries to the Deerfield River and noted personal observation of trout redds in the Deerfield River.  It was clear from the discussions that the length-frequency analysis in the Fish Assemblage Assessment Study would not be able to determine whether or not a YOY or yearling trout measured as part of the Fish Assemblage Assessment Study came from tributaries or the mainstem of the Deerfield River.  Therefore, there is no way to identify or assess project effects on trout spawning from the studies being presently conducted, and for this reason we are requesting a trout spawning survey.

(3) Why the request was not made earlier. 

CRC did include the trout spawning survey as part of our fish assemblage study request (#7) in our letter dated April 16, 2015.

(5) Why the new study request satisfies the study criteria in §5.9(b). 

We are familiar with the criteria for submitting a study request to FERC, and believe that all the sections under §5.9(b) are included in the attached study request.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the Bear Swamp ISR.

Sincerely,
Andrea Donlon

River Steward

 

ATTACHMENT: Trout Spawning Survey Study Request

 

 

Attachment

CRC Study Request:  Trout Spawning Survey in the Deerfield River below Fife Brook Dam

 

Goals and Objectives

  • Characterize the population of naturally spawning trout in the Deerfield River below the Fife Brook dam.
  • Conduct spawning ground surveys to map spawning areas, characterize the habitat, and determine the distribution of spawning relative to river flows.

 

Relevant Resource Management Goals

Not applicable.  Requester is not an agency or Indian tribe.

 

Public Interest Consideration If Requester Is Not a Resource Agency

Sections 4(e) and 10(a) of the Federal Power Act require the Commission to give equal consideration to all uses of the waterway on which a project is located, and what conditions should be placed on any license that may be issued.  The Deerfield River is valued public resource, and is a popular fly fishing river in western Massachusetts.  Fly fishing enthusiasts use the river for fishing, use the service of guides and local fly fishing stores, and contribute to the local economy.  The public has a strong interest in protecting fish populations in the Deerfield River and its tributaries.

 

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information

The original fisheries studies of the Bear Swamp Project (MADFW, 1977) estimated that between 10% and 16% of the trout harvested in the Project area were naturally produced (wild).  It was estimated that few stocked trout carried over to the following year, however increases in minimum flows required in the 1996 settlement agreement may now allow stocked trout to survive the summer months.  Wild brook, brown, and rainbow trout were documented in the project area in the 1977 study report.  Based on growth rates, the authors surmised that the brook and rainbow trout were spawning in the tributaries and the brown trout were spawning in the Deerfield River.

Bear Swamp Power Company (BSPC) has completed the field work for its Fish Assemblage Assessment Study.  In Section 5.6 of the Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30, 2015, BSPC committed to conduct two sampling events – late spring/early summer (May 15-June 30) and late summer/early fall (August 15-September 30).  A length-frequency analysis will be completed for trout species to separate age groups into young-of-year, yearling, and those age 2 years and over.  The RSP indicates that trout stocked in the Deerfield River are age class 2+ years.  The Summary of the ISR Meeting dated November 28, 2016, describes the discussion that took place during which  the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MA DFW) stated they only stock trout bigger than 100 millimeters (mm), and so any trout caught during this study that measured less than 100 mm indicates natural reproduction in the system.

Trout spawning generally occurs during the months of October and November. Mature brook trout, for example, seek a gravel riffle area.  Females use their tails to create a spawning bed (or redd) in ¼ inch to 1 inch gravel.  Redds may measure 1 to 2 feet in size.  Female brook trout can produce between 100 to 5,000 eggs depending upon the size and age of the individual.  After spawning, the female covers the eggs with gravel.  Brook trout eggs must stay silt free and get continuous amounts of oxygen rich water in order for the eggs to survive.  Depending upon water temperatures, the egg incubation period is 3 to 4 months before hatching into sac fry.  The sac fry remain in the redd until the yolk sac is absorbed.  Then, when they are about 1 ½ inches (38 mm) long, they venture away from the redd to feed.  Brook trout take about 1.5 to 2.5 years to mature and they usually do not live longer than 6 years.  Brook trout living in streams reach between 7 inches (178 mm) to 9 inches (229 mm) in length.

FERC’s Study Plan Determination for the Bear Swamp Project dated October 30, 2015, stated on page B-4, “While the proposed study period for the fish assemblage assessment study would not coincide with the trout spawning period, it is possible that algae regrowth in trout spawning areas will be slow enough to allow some identification of redds during the early portion of the survey period (i.e., during May).  In addition, even if Bear Swamp is unable to identify any redds, the contribution of wild spawning trout to the existing fishery can be assessed from young-of-year (YOY) and yearling trout abundance data which will be obtained from the fish assemblage sampling (see discussion of Trout Scale Study).  Therefore, we do not recommend Trout Unlimited’s proposed modification and we recommend that Bear Swamp conduct the study as proposed.”

BSPC’s Initial Study Report (ISR) dated October 31, 2016, indicated that the late Spring/early Summer survey was conducted June 3 to 9, 2016, and the late summer/early fall survey was conducted from September 8 to 14, 2016.  CRC’s understanding based on the discussion during the ISR Meeting held on November 14, 2016 is that observation of redds was not a part of the June 3-9, 2016 survey.  During the ISR meeting, stakeholders disagreed that most trout spawning occurs in tributaries to the Deerfield River and noted personal observation of trout redds in the Deerfield River.  It was clear from the discussions that the length-frequency analysis in the Fish Assemblage Assessment Study would not be able to determine whether or not a YOY or yearling trout measured as part of the Fish Assemblage Assessment Study came from tributaries or the mainstem of the Deerfield River.  Therefore, there is no way to identify or assess project effects on trout spawning from the studies being presently conducted.

 

Nexus to Project Operations and Effects

Project operations have the potential to directly impact trout life history requirements, biological interactions, and habitat quantity and quality.  For example, peaking operations could dewater important spawning or rearing areas, thus limiting trout productivity by direct impacts to their spawning or rearing success or indirectly by limiting the spawning or rearing success of trout.

 

Proposed Methodology

The primary purpose of this study is to verify the overall distribution and extent of trout spawning in the project affected area of the Deerfield River below Fife Brook Dam and above Deerfield Dam No. 4.  A secondary purpose is to determine the extent to which spawning redds are subject to de-watering (stranding), relative to the current project operation procedures. Two surveys of the entire project affected area should be completed, one during the peak spawning period and one post-season survey that roughly corresponds to the timing of fry emergence.  The determination of the exact timing of the surveys will be based on water flow and turbidity conditions in the river.  Surveys should be conducted from a small boat, as well as on foot in selected sections of the river where substrate is suitable for spawning, documenting the numbers of fish and redds observed.  The survey crew will also document spawning activity near the shorelines, where redds might be more prone to stranding by decreasing water levels. Efforts will be made to locate all areas of spawning within the free-flowing reach.  The approach for identifying spawning areas includes a combination of identifying redds as described above and investigation of channel margins for young-of-year trout when fry are expected to emerge (second survey).

The numbers of fish and redds will be summed over ¼ mile reaches of the river to characterize the magnitude of spawning activity relative to river reach location, and redd locations will be marked on maps of the river.  The location of spawning activity will also be recorded with a hand-held GPS unit, either as individual redds (in areas of pocket spawning) or by recording GPS points around areas of extensive spawning activity.  The number of redds within these larger areas will be enumerated for density estimates.  At each spawning location, whether it contains a single or multiple redds the following information should be recorded: Date and time, habitat type, substrate, water velocity, width and length of the redd, water depth, and water temperature.  The operations model can then be used to estimate water level fluctuation impacts to each redd.

In addition, as many visible redds as possible should be marked (e.g. with fluorescent painted rocks, or flagging markers) for subsequent identification.  When possible, marking of redds should be conducted from a boat to minimize the physical disturbance of spawning areas. These sites should be resurveyed shortly afterward at minimum flow.  The intent of this method is to determine the number of redds that are dewatered as water levels decline.

 

Level of Effort and Cost

This study will require sampling of the Project-affected areas of during fall and late winter/early spring.  The cost of the study would be moderate, with minimal gear needed..

Bear Swamp estimated that their Fish Assemblage Assessment Study would cost $175,000.  This involved two different survey periods using a variety of methods and gear types, including electrofishing.  This study requested is simply a visual survey with a limited number of measurements using standard measurement tools.  CRC estimates this study will cost less than $40,000.