Shad and Vermont Yankee
Once again, the Connecticut River Water Council (CRWC) is trying its best to make Vermont Yankee the bad guy. This group, which according to its annual report is supported financially by an anti-Vermont Yankee charitable foundation, says Vermont Yankee’s heated water discharge may be hurting the Connecticut River shad population.
Marine fisheries scientists with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the US Fish and Wildlife Service seem to have a different opinion. These scientists say the Connecticut River shad population is at its highest in 20 years. They attribute the previous decline in shad populations to a number of factors: overfishing (commercial netting) in the lower river (shad spend most of their lives in the ocean, returning to the river to spawn); barriers such as hydro dams; and the population boom in predators such as striped bass. Biologist Kenneth Sprankle of US Fish and Wildlife Service recently was quoted “The fish lift in Holyoke does an OK job, but the ladders at Turners Falls and Vernon Dam just don’t seem to work for shad.” This is a long-standing limitation, as I was personally responsible to install underwater cameras to study the reluctance of fish to ascend the Turners Falls fish ladder in the 1980s. Even so, 9855 shad swam over Vernon Dam while none swam up the Bellows Falls ladder this spring.
The state and federal marine fisheries scientists studying the shad population in the Connecticut River make no mention of heated water from Vermont Yankee as contributing to declines in fish returns, and for good reason. The water discharged from the plant is well within the levels allowed by its permit. This is confirmed by multiple independent studies, which continually find that Vermont Yankee’s water discharge does not pose a threat to the Connecticut River’s fish populations, including Atlantic salmon and American shad.
American shad migrate up some very warm rivers along the east coast, including the slow-moving St. Johns River in central Florida. In the Connecticut River, the large reservoirs behind many dams result in solar heating that can be shown to be much greater than that of Vermont Yankee; solar heating is obvious to any experienced fisherman. And CRWA departs from responsible science by calling the discharge “hot”, indicating a painful temperature, perhaps to prompt an emotional reaction by the public. This characterization is not true even at the temperature limit and most of the time the discharge temperature is considerably lower.
I encourage the public to put good science and clear cut evidence ahead of the advocacy hype.
Energy Education Project, Founder-Mattabessett River Watershed Association, engineer, solar systems owner, conservationist, fisherman
Westmoreland, New Hampshire
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