Feds get trout study info on Deerfield River Hydro relicensing

  • A man fly fishes below the dam at Fife Brook fishing access site on the Deerfield River. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Gazette
Thursday, February 08, 2018

With a new study finding rainbow trout spawning in the Deerfield River, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is being asked to more closely consider the effects of power generation on the fish.

Results of Trout Unlimited’s first-of-its-kind scientific study last fall were sent this week to FERC along with comments from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Connecticut River Conservancy and others reviewing the planned relicensing of the Bear Swamp Pumped Storage and Fife Brook hydroelectric plants in the northwest corner of Franklin County. Both plants, owned by Brookfield Renewable Partners, use Deerfield River water to produce electricity and are due to be relicensed by the federal government.

Comments on the relicensing application by Brookfield’s Bear Swamp Power Co. LLC were due this week, ahead of FERC’s preparation of a final license, according to FERC spokesman Nicholas Tackett.

Trout Unlimited’s discovery of 101 trout spawning beds — 37 of which contained eggs — in a 7-mile stretch downstream from Fife Brook in Rowe “is a real big smoking gun,” said chapter President Kevin Parsons. It had been thought that trout spawned only in the river’s tributaries like Clesson Brook, Avery Brook and Chickley River.

Trout Unlimited suggested that Brookfield’s operation is having what he calls “a significant impact” on wild trout in the full 17½-mile river stretch between Fife Brook and Great River Hydro’s No. 4 Dam at the Charlemont-Buckland town line.

Brookfield did not respond to calls to comment for this article.

In its filing Sunday, Trout Unlimited notified FERC of its study, asking that regulators require additional examination of the issue.

“As a result of this preliminary study, it is apparent that additional studies are required to further investigate the conditions on the Deerfield River,” Parsons wrote. “Many questions remain. We do not know what impact Brookfield hydro-peaking operations are having on egg development and younger fish. Note that only 37 percent of beds found contained eggs. Could the low percentage of beds with eggs indicate thwarted spawning attempts? It would appear to be the case. However, we are not certain. ... More investigation into the activities of the spawning trout is required.”

A filing Tuesday by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife points to the results of Trout Unlimited’s voluntary spawning study as suggesting that “current project operations are resulting in potentially significant impacts to the natural reproduction of trout in the project area.” The agency urged additional studies “to better understand how project operations are affecting this important resource, and what possible changes to project operations” could be made to deal with the problem.

The Connecticut River Conservancy, formerly known as the Connecticut River Watershed Council, also filed with FERC, calling for additional studies in light of the trout studies.