FERC Re-licensing of the Fife Brook Dam

 

LINK TO BEAR SWAMP RELICENSING (FERC No. 2669): 

http://www.bearswampproject.com

LINK TO BEAR SWAMP RECREATION SURVEY

https://renewableops.brookfield.com/en/Presence/North-America/Recreation-and-Safety/Bear-Swamp-Relicensing/Recreation-Survey

TROUT SPAWNING SURVEY REQUEST

DEERFIELD RIVER WATERSHED CHAPTER TROUT UNLIMITED

PO Box 133

Shelburne Falls, MA 01370

December 20, 2016

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First Street, N.E., Room 1 A

Washington, DC 20426

RE: Bear Swamp Project, P-2669-085

Dear Sir/Madam,

This is intended to correct the letter dated December 19, 2016 submitted to FERC. In the December 19, 2016 letter it was incorrectly stated we were looking for this survey request to the Number 5 Dam, when in fact we are seeking the survey to the Number 4 Dam. I apologize for this oversight.

Deerfield River Watershed TU Study Request: Trout Spawning Survey in the Deerfield River from Fife Dam to the Number 4 Dam

Goals and Objectives

*Characterize the population of naturally spawning trout in the Deerfield River below Fife Brook Dam to the Number 4 Dam pond.

*Conduct spawning surveys to map spawning areas (redds), characterize habitat, and determine spawning success and population distribution relative to river flows.

Relevant Resource Management Goals

Not applicable. Requestor is not a tribe or agency.

Public Interest Consideration If Requestor Is Not a Resource Agency

Sections 4(e) and 10(a) of the Federal Power Act 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 is issued. Trout Unlimited is an organization committed to protecting and preserving cold water fisheries and the Deerfield River is a documented cold water fishery. TU believes the Deerfield is a good trout river that could be a great trout river if the flow regime were changed to minimize hydro-peaking. The Deerfield River below Fife Brook dam has documented populations of wild trout, there are documented spawning sites (redds) in the Fife Brook section to the Number 4 dam, and TU believes that hydro-peaking has a negative impact on spawning success. There have been no comprehensive studies to date on this subject. Enhancing wild trout populations will improve fishing opportunities, increase interest in the Deerfield as fishing destination, and improve the local economy through increased tourism-thus benefitting the public interest.

Existing Information and Need for Additional Information

There is little scientific data regarding wild trout populations other than the original fisheries studies of the Bear Swamp Project (MADFW, 1977). The MADFW study estimated that between 10% and 16% of the trout harvested in the Project area were naturally produced in the river (wild). At that time, few stocked trout carried over to the following season due to low minimum flows- however after flows were increased in the 1996 settlement agreement the ability for fish to “holdover” to the following year may have changed. The 1977 study documented wild brook, brown, and rainbow trout in the Fife Brook, BSP area of the Deerfield River. The implication is that these fish were spawning in the main stem Deerfield river. Brook trout and brown trout spawn in the fall from October through early December and there are rainbow trout strains that spawn in the fall and others that are spring spawning. To understand the spawning behaviors, location and success of spawning fish would require studying these spawning trout during the spawning season mentioned above-not the summer season. BSPC has completed the field work for its Fish Assemblage Assessment study as required in the Revised Study Plan (RSP) dated September 30th, 2015. In section 5.6 of the RSP, BSP committed to conduct to sampling events-late spring/early summer (May 15-June 30) and late summer/early fall (August 15-September 30)-well outside of the spawning periods for trout species in the Deerfield.

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 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 in the early portion of the survey period. In addition, even if BSP is unable to identify any redds, the contribution of wild spawning trout to the 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 BS conduct the study as proposed.” MADFW believes that part of this decision was due to reliance by the FERC on a paragraph from a TU member and local guide in a tourist oriented book claiming the Deerfield has a robust wild trout fishery. So rather than looking to science based facts, we apparently live in a post-fact world where an opinion from layperson with no supporting data can be substituted for much needed scientific understanding.

Compounding this apparent desire to shy away from scientific data is the fact that during ISR meeting some interesting things came to light during the discussion. First, the MADFW representatives confirmed that most stocked trout are 12 inches or longer and that no trout are stocked under 10 inches-ever. When asked about the presence of trout under 10 inches and whether they originated from the state stocking program, they replied no. When asked if they were wild fish born in the river, Caleb Slater from MADFW replied that “the fish were likely born in the tributaries and not in the mainstem Deerfield due to hydro-peaking.” Trout Unlimited conducted informal spawning surveys last fall and this fall with members and found no evidence of redds in the tributaries but good numbers of redds by Fife Brook dam (photos are available), above the railroad trestle, below the Zoar Gap, and in the Shunpike stretch. Trout could be seen on the redds at Fife Brook. We are at an impasse as to where these fish are coming from- tributaries, as Mr. Slater speculates with no data to affirm his hypothesis, or the main stem as TU members have documented.

The second issue that pertains to this same topic is the omission by BSP at the ISR Meeting held on November 14, 2016 during the discussion of the Fish Assemblage Study results that redds were found during the May survey. Whether this was by accident or intentional- it is clear the wild trout issue seems to be the one issue BSP clearly wants to avoid. Is BSP afraid that studying wild trout spawning will result in a change to the hydro-peaking flow regime? Clearly the Fish Assemblage Study is inadequate to answer the questions surrounding wild trout in the Fife Brook stretch and better science is required.

Nexus to Project Operations and Effects

Project operations can have a profound effect on fish species such as trout. Peaking operations impact biological interactions, life history requirements, and can limit habitat needed for successful spawning – scouring of redds from peaking, and loss of redds from de-watering are two serious effects of peaking events. These adverse effects from peaking operations are not limited to trout- forage fish species suffer similar negative outcomes too.

Proposed Methodology

Trout Unlimited proposes a Trout Spawning Ground Survey. This survey would verify the distribution and extent of trout spawning in the Deerfield River from Fife Brook to the top of the pond at the Number 4 dam, essentially the end of the Fife Brook peaking flow area. The second purpose of this survey would determine the extent to which redds are de-watered by peaking flows relative to current operations. Surveys should be conducted during peak flows and minimum flows to ascertain whether stranding of redds is occurring from de-watering. A post- spawning season survey will be required that corresponds to fry emergence. This will help determine if spawning is successful in the identified redds. Surveys should be conducted from a small boat, as well as on foot where spawning may be concentrated, documenting the numbers of fish and redds observed. The survey crew will document spawning activity near the shorelines, where redds may be subject to stranding. 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). Although the intent is to cover as much of the study area as possible, the survey areas will depend on access to the river and safety.

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 each river reach location, and redds will be marked on maps of the river, with GPS units (hand-held) used to mark redds as well with GPS points around areas of extensive spawning activity. The numbers 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, time, habitat type, substrate, water velocity, width and length of red, water depth and water temperature. In addition, identified redds should be marked with flags, painted rocks or other method that will allow for subsequent identification. When possible, marking and measuring of redds should be done from a small boat to minimize physical disturbance of the spawning areas.

These sites should be resurveyed as soon as possible at low water to determine if redds are being de-watered when flows decline.

Level of Effort and Cost

This study will require sampling of the Project-affected areas during spring summer and fall. The cost of the study would be moderate to high as seasonal sampling with several types of gear would be required. Based on first year study results, a second year of sampling or specific studies examining the impacts of BSP operations may be requested.

BSP estimated the cost of the Fish Assemblage Study to be around $175,000. TU estimates the cost of this study to be around $40,000.

Very truly yours,

(s) Kevin D. Parsons

Kevin D. Parsons, Chapter President Elect