Change in Hydro Operation on Housatonic River Recognized as Part of Growing Public Embrace of Healthy Rivers and Increased Quality of Life
8/25/2000 -- -- August 25, 2000. West Cornwall, CT... Trout Unlimited and its partners in the Housatonic Coalition applauded the water quality certification issued by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a series of hydroelectric dams on the Housatonic River.
The DEP's recommendation to return natural flows to the river was issued in compliance with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's relicensing of the two dams. The decision, which promises to restore the ecological health of the longest remaining riverine reaches of the Housatonic in Connecticut, was hailed by TU as a part of a growing recognition by communities with hydropower facilities that a healthy river increases their own quality of life.
"DEP's decision will help restore the health of the Housatonic," stated Mike Piquette of TU's Connecticut Council and the Housatonic Coalition. "This will not solve all of the river's problems, but it is a huge step forward, and run-of-river is definitely the single most important thing DEP could have done for the Housatonic. We are delighted by level of support for returning natural flow to the Housatonic."
Together, TU and the Housatonic Coalition, a group of citizens, businesses, and anglers groups formed to fight for natural flows on the Housatonic, launched a public education campaign in an effort to promote the benefits of natural flows. "We were surprised at how receptive the citizens of Connecticut were to the idea that natural flows would restore a healthy Housatonic," said Piquette. "Most everyone we spoke with understood that a healthy river increased their own quality of life. As a result, many took action and told DEP to stick to its guns. DEP heard them and did the right thing for the river."
The certification requires a change in operation of the Falls Village and Bulls Bridge dams from "pond-and-release" to "run-of -river. Under the current license, Northeast Generation releases water from behind the dams each day to generate electricity during times of peak demand; during the rest of the day the utility cuts off most of the water from the river to store it behind the dam for the next day's period of generation. This practice results in wild water level fluctuations in the river, creating flows that range from far below normal to far in excess of the river's natural water level in a single day. These flow fluctuations cause severe ecological damage, and can reduce populations of fish and other species, as well as reduce species diversity.
Under DEP's decision, the utility must end peaking flows approximately in 27 miles of river and return that stretch of river to natural flows. Under the new license, this stretch of the Housatonic will rise and fall with the seasons just as an undammed river, and will no longer be subject to extreme daily flow fluctuation.
"Under natural flow, electricity will continue to be generated and everyone can continue to enjoy the Housatonic River, but at Nature's pace, not the power company's," said Piquette.
Although the certification requires natural flows for only the Falls Village and Bulls Bridge dams, these two dams affect 27 miles of flowing water, which represents virtually all of the non-impounded, flowing river affected by the entire project.
"The scientific literature is clear, the peaking flows inflicted on the Housatonic over the years are ecologically devastating impairing populations on fish and other aquatic life," said Leon Szeptycki, TU's Eastern Conservation Director. "For the last 80 years, the Housatonic has not been allowed to act like a natural river, and its aquatic ecosystem has not been given the chance to function properly."
Trout in the Housatonic River survive the hot months of the summer by seeking cold water found at the mouths of tributaries and at spring seeps. High peaking flows in the afternoon have had the tendency to obliterate these refuges, routinely raising their temperatures far beyond healthy temperatures for trout. In addition to improving the overall health of the river, natural flows will help preserve these refuges, allowing more trout to survive through the year and improving natural reproduction of trout in the river.
TU and the Houm
Expanding to the entire Housatonic watershed: Trout Unlimited works toward the recovery of an entire watershed understanding that the health of the river depends on a holistic approach. The return of natural flow to the Housatonic is an integral part of the restoration of the entire Housatonic watershed:
Trout Unlimited, the nation's leading coldwater conservation organization, celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 1999. TU's 500 chapters and more than 125,000 members nationwide are committed to conserving, protecting and restoring North America's trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.