Gray Hagwood: the future of the Green River reservoir is at stake

This commentary is from Gray Hagwood of St. Albans, President of the Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited.

Recently, Morrisville Water and Light launched a public debate on the future of the Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park. Possible outcomes include the removal of the dam and the disposal of the reservoir, or the transfer of ownership to the State of Vermont, which would become responsible for its management and maintenance.

However, this discussion must be part of a larger context of the environmental health of the Lamoille and Green rivers near the three hydroelectric dams belonging to the municipal utility: the Morrisville, Cady Falls and Green River dams.

Environmental studies commissioned by Morrisville Water and Light show that all three facilities do not meet Vermont water quality standards as they are currently operated, resulting in degradation of water quality and water. aquatic habitat.

As the discussion on the future of the Green River Dam continues, Vermont Trout Unlimited calls on Morrisville Water and Light to make the necessary changes to the Morrisville and Cadys Falls dams to restore river flows and habitat. of the Lamoille river downstream of these dams.

All three hydroelectric facilities are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Over 10 years ago Morrisville Water and Light began the process of obtaining a new permit to continue operating these facilities for another 40 years. The authorization process includes multiple studies to determine the impacts of dams on natural resources (aquatic habitat, water quality, endangered species, wildlife, etc.), historic resources, recreation and public safety.

Of course, this makes the renewal of accreditation an expensive process because the studies and analyzes must be carried out by qualified experts recruited by the public service. But FERC needs these studies not only to determine operating conditions, ranging from environmental protection to public safety, but also to make an informed decision on the decommissioning and removal of a dam.

Finally, the studies are important to the state of Vermont, which must certify that the dams will meet the requirements of Vermont water quality standards as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Anyone who uses or discharges water from Vermont’s lakes and rivers must adhere to water quality standards, and not just Morrisville Water and Light. Hydroelectric power stations, farms, ski resorts, wastewater treatment plants and others must meet current standards.

Standards are based on science, and as science improves, so do environmental standards. Therefore, the same is true for the operation of any business impacting the rivers of Vermont, including the Morrisville utility. We cannot protect and restore our rivers by following the standards that were in effect 40 years ago.

After reviewing environmental studies conducted by consultants from Morrisville Water and Light, the State of Vermont issued conditions specifying how water must be managed at dams in order to meet standards. Morrisville Water and Light has challenged these terms in court, which is certainly its right. But ultimately, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the conditions set by the state.

According to a comment on its website on Nov. 2 regarding the renewal of the Green River Dam license, Friends of the Green River Reservoir notes that Morrisville Water and Light spent more than $ 1.1 million on attorney fees. to fight against the state in court. Imagine where we could be if this $ 1.1 million were applied to make the necessary changes so that dams can be operated in an environmentally responsible manner.

Morrisville Water and Light decided that the Green River Dam was no longer economically viable if it had to meet water quality standards. He wants to sell the dam to the state of Vermont. In other words, the Vermont taxpayers would assume the responsibility of the Morrisville Water and Light taxpayers for the operation and maintenance of the dam.

It is not clear whether the Morrisville utility would expect the state to pay for the dam or just take charge of it to shirk responsibility. In all cases, FERC must approve any change in ownership or operation. Morrisville Water and Light is hiring a consultant to develop a proposal to modify or remove the dam that will be submitted to FERC and the state. This process will take time and as it unfolds, the water quality and aquatic habitat of the Lamoille River will suffer.

On a final note, a letter to the editor of the weekly News & Citizen from October 28, titled “Green River Dam is Collapsing,” states that “Trout Unlimited argues dam should collapse to improve fish habitat downstream ”.

Unfortunately, the author was either misinformed or deliberately misled readers. Trout Unlimited has never argued for the removal of this roadblock. Instead, during the 10-year federal license renewal process and subsequent court cases, Trout Unlimited argued for better conservation flows to protect the aquatic habitat below the three dams, including the dam. from the Green River. It is possible that the dam will remain and restore aquatic habitat downstream if better conservation flows are provided.

Trout Unlimited continually maintains that Morrisville Water and Light needs to do a better job protecting aquatic habitat downstream of its three dams: Green River, Morrisville and Cadys Falls. Removing the Green River dam is not a simple matter. Morrisville Water and Light owns the dam and cannot modify or remove it without state and federal approval.

For this reason, all groups that have an interest in the future of the dam should be involved in this discussion. And as this discussion continues, Morrisville Water and Light owes the public, who want healthier aquatic habitat and improved recreation on the Lamoille River, to apply the conservation flows below the three dams, as required by the State and upheld by the courts of Vermont.

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Tags: Green River Reservoir, Gray Hagwood, Morrisville Water & Light Green River, Trout Unlimited


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