Connecticut Agency Stands Up for Health of Housatonic River
Trout Unlimited Applauds Hydropower Certification
6/29/2000 — — West Cornwall, CT . . . The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) drew praise from Trout Unlimited (TU) for the agency’s groundbreaking certification requirements of North East Utilities’ (“NU”) hydropower dams on the famed Housatonic River. According to the conservation organization, the DEP set an example in federal hydropower relicensing process with its decision to end the NU’s decades long practice of causing artificial flow fluctuations in the longest remaining free flowing sections of the Housatonic River.
The DEP move came as part of relicensing proceeding for several hydropower dams on the Housatonic before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the state of Connecticut must issue water quality certification that includes restrictions on the FERC license necessary to meet state water quality standards. On June 16th the DEP proposed certification that would require natural “run-of-river: flows below the Falls Village and Bulls Bridge hydropower developments. The certification would also require better minimum flows in the by-pass reaches at both Falls Village and Bulls Bridge.
“Connecticut DEP’s requirement to restore natural flows, essential to the health of the Housatonic River and its entire ecosystem, sets a precedent in Connecticut for the hydropower relicensing process,” said Mike Piquette, a TU member and chair of the Housatonic Coalition, a group of citizens, businesses, and anglers groups formed to fight for natural flows on the Housatonic. “For over 80 years, flows in the Housatonic River have been manipulated by operation of the Bulls Bridge and Falls Village dams, causing dangerously high water temperatures, wild fluctuations in water levels which have greatly impaired the rivers’ delicate ecosystem. For the first time since the early 1900s this river will have a chance to establish a stable, natural aquatic ecosystem.”
This relicensing agreement will include 18 miles of trout water below the Falls Village dam, and six miles of high quality river below the Bulls Bridge dam. The 18 miles below Falls Village is the longest stretch of river habitat left on the Housatonic in Connecticut and includes the famous Housatonic Trout Management Area (TMA).
“Northeast Utilities will now have to keep the minimum amount of water in the river to guarantee the health of the river’s ecosystem,” said TU Environmental Counsel Leon Szeptycki. “The company’s history of using ‘peaking flows’ on the Housatonic to create hydropower has impaired the health and diversity of the river’s aquatic organism’s – creating an ecological imbalance and hampering the river’s ability to thrive. Returning natural flows should increase populations of fish, mussels, and insects in the Falls Village area.”
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. Trout Unlimited and the Housatonic Fly Fishermen’s Association (HFFA) point to a series of fish kills in the late 1980s and early 1990s caused by low water flows and lethal water temperatures that relates the fish kills to hydropower releases caused by hydropower releases during periods of low water flows and lethal water temperatures.
Trout Unlimited has a rich history of watershed protection in the state of Connecticut. TU is a member of the Housatonic Coalition, a diverse group of concerned citizens who have worked toward the recovery of the famed river. Attached is a list of watershed recovery efforts preformed by members of the Housatonic Coalition in the areas that are affected by this relicensing:
The Housatonic Fly Fishermen’s Association (HFFA), a member of the Housatonic Coalition, holds an annual riverbank clean-up of the Housatonic River in the Trout Management Area (TMA).
Candlewood Valley TU has held clean-ups in the Bulls Bridge Gorge section of the Housatonic.
HFFA also holds an annual tree planting in the TMA and its tributaries.
HFFA is doing stream bank restoration work along a degraded stretch of the major TMA tributary named Furnace Brook.
HFFA and TU are actively pursuing a change in trout management on TMA tributaries that will emphasize wild trout.
HFFA was a co-sponsor (with DEP and the utility) of the 1994 water temperature/flow study that determined that hydropower releases were eliminating cold water trout refuges and leading to fish kills.
In an ongoing study, HFFA is monitoring summertime TMA and tributary water temperatures to further illustrate the negative effects of hydropower releases on trout habitat.
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:
The Naugatuck chapter of TU has been the driving force behind the restoration of the Naugatuck River, part of the Housatonic River watershed. Along with being the major player in advocacy that resulted in sewage plant upgrades, the removal of several dams and anadromous fish restoration, TU’s part in the restoration includes water quality monitoring, water temperature monitoring, tree planting and stream bank restoration.
Naugatuck TU was also an active participant in the precedent setting legal victory that will put more water into the Shepaug River. This ruling will not only restore the Shepaug, it sets the stage for reclaiming scores of Connecticut waterways that are degraded by water diversions.
Naugatuck TU is also active in the restoration of the Pomperaug River a Housatonic tributary.
Candlewood Valley TU is part of a coalition that is involved in restoring the Still River, a Housatonic tributary that is seriously degraded.