This week American Whitewater, New England Flow and the Vermont Paddlers Club are filing a detailed written request for studies relating to a proposed hydropower project on the popular West River. The proposed project would install hydroelectric turbines and new fish passage facilities at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Ball Mountain Dam. The requested studies would provide critical insight into the effects of the proposed project on recreation, hydrology, and Atlantic salmon.
The proposed project would operate the dam in a similar manner to its historical operations which include flood control storage, limited recreational releases, and some semblance of “run-of-river” operations which should track natural flows. The current design/operation of the dam however does not closely mimic natural flows and impedes the passage of any out-migrating salmon that may try to pass during times of reservoir storage associated with recreational releases or flood control storage.
It is possible that installing hydropower turbines and fish passage facilities at this dam may result in tangible public benefits. The turbines could provide releases that closely match inflows, thereby providing smooth transitions from low flows to high flows and back. Currently the dam accomplishes such transitions in quick steps that are hard for aquatic organisms, paddlers, and other river visitors to predict. The fish passage facilities could benefit Atlantic salmon while allowing recreational releases and flood control storage to occur. In short, the proposed hydropower project may be beneficial to the West River, its ecosystem, and its enjoyment.
However, without robust studies to inform a thoughtful analysis, these opportunities may be lost and the dam’s significant impacts may continue needlessly into the future – with or without the proposed hydropower project. The study requests submitted by the paddlers will provide a solid basis for analyzing the effects of the project, limiting the impacts, and taking advantage of any opportunities to improve the management of the West River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will decide whether or not to require the project proponent to conduct our requested studies early this coming spring.
A link to the study request will be added to this article upon submission of the request this week.