Four foot female American Eel killed by turbines of Benton Falls Hydro Dam, Sebasticook River, Benton, Maine. 14 October 2004.
following though a bit dated demonstrates the challenges facing both eels and
The Sebasticook River is the largest tributary of the Kennebec River. Sebasticook has a watershed of about six hundred thousand acres and is about fifty miles long. Within this six hundred thousand acres are fifty great ponds and numerous tributaries both large and small. Ideal habitat for the American Eel.
Most baby eels migrating up Sebasticook do not make it past the several dams which impound its waters. Those few which do, those few fortunate enough to reach maturity here must migrate downstream through three hydro dams to reach the Kennebec. Once in the Kennebec they make way to the Sargasso Sea, to give birth to a new generation only once and die.
Most adult female American eels which swim down out of the Sebasticook watershed will die in hydro dams.
Below is an account of what is happening now on Sebasticook, and at many other rivers throughout New England.
It's no accident. It is as predictable as the sunrise and sunset. Every fall it repeats itself, and every fall the State of Maine sheepishly turns its back to it.
On Friday, October 15, 2004 Mr. Nathan Gray of the Maine Department of Marine Resources accompanied Mr. Watts to the Benton Falls project to perform a more thorough survey of the project tailrace for dead and injured American eel.
Mr. Gray's October 15, 2004 report to his superiors reads as follows:
Returned to the tailrace of Benton Fall Hydroelectric facility this PM with Doug Watts after he reported a significant eel kill having happened sometime prior to 10/14/04. Using chest waders we inspected the tailrace outfall and found there were at least a few hundred eels killed over the past few weeks. Eels ranged from highly decomposed to cripples unable to swim. A bald eagle was noted taking off with eel remains. Nearly all sections of the tailrace that were wadeable contained the remains of adult eels that appeared to have been killed by turbine blade strike. Calvin Neal, the station operator had reduced flows to the turbine in order to more efficiently utilize water resources in generating electricity. This may account for the eels that were found that appeared whole but were nevertheless dead. On 10/14/04 I performed a routine downstream inspection of the site and was informed by Mr. Neal that a certain person in the form of Douglas Watts had come to the site and was very upset that there were dead eels below the project. I asked Mr. Neal to accompany me on an inspection walk down in the tail waters to see if there were any eels or alewives that had been entrained and killed by the turbine. Viewing conditions were less than ideal but I did note that the appeared to be a few dead eels in the tailrace. One in particular was quite visible. Having no chest waders with me I told Mr. Neal that I would return on 10/15/04 to confirm the presence of the eel(s) in the project tailwaters. Mr. Watts visited the office on the morning of 10/15/04 ant told what he had seen below the Benton facility so I asked him to accompany me to show me what he had seen. He did so. There were more than he had seen the previous day. Below the rapids there is a large fall-out pool and the bottom here showed eels in various states of decay from very fresh to weeks old.
On Monday afternoon, the Maine Attorney Generals Office, Maine DEP and Maine Dept. of Marine Resources met and decided the owners of the "green" Benton Falls Dam are not violating ANY state law by killing hundreds of female American eels.
Their official decision reads...
From: Murch, Dana P
I met today at DMR to discuss the Benton Falls
eel kill situation with Commissioner George Lapointe, Deputy Commissioner David
Etnier, DMR staff (Tom Squiers & Gail Wippelhauser), and Mark Randlett of the
AG's Office. It was acknowledged that the dam owner (Benton Falls Associates) is
not currently in violation of either its FERC license or its DEP water quality
certification for the project, both of which have eel passage provisions based
on the 1998 KHDG Agreement. Under the terms of the Agreement, DMR is still
studying "the appropriate permanent downstream eel passage measures to apply" to
the project. Commissioner Lapointe will take the lead in requesting that the dam
owner voluntarily cease project generation at night during the eel migration
season. It will be acknowledged to the dam owner that this request goes beyond
the current requirements of the KHDG Agreement. If consensus is not reached
with the dam owner, DMR retains the option, under the KHDG Agreement, of
petitioning FERC to amend the project license to insert appropriate conditions
for eel passage. Commissioner Lapointe will also take the lead in setting up a
meeting with the entire Maine hydro industry to discuss eel passage issues. I
plan to participate in this discussion.
Quote from Nate Gray Report - "Using chest waders we inspected the tailrace outfall and found there were at least a few hundred eels killed over the past few weeks".
Quote from official decision - "Commissioner Lapointe will take the lead in requesting that the dam owner voluntarily cease project generation at night during the eel migration season".
Who is Commissioner Lapointe?
Commissioner George Lapointe is the commissioner of the Maine Dept. of Marine Resources. Commissioner Lapointe is also a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) which issued a press release on March 10, 2004 in regard to actions they feel may be required to protect declining American eel populations. Below is an excerpt from the ASMFC press release.
" The Commission also recommended that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) consider American eel in the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River/Lake Champlain/Richelieu River system as a candidate for listing as a Distinct Population Segment under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Board also recommended that the USFWS and the NMFS consider designating the entire coastwide stock as a candidate for listing under the ESA."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceEndangered Species Glossary, definition of an endangered species: Endangered species: An animal or plant species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Is There Something Terribly Wrong
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is a board consisting of fisheries managers from the Atlantic coast states. They are charged with the job of managing marine fisheries which migrate through the waters of the Atlantic coast.
This is an experienced group of individuals who fully understand the coast wide impact of even proposing American eel as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The fact they are even discussing this publicly indicates how little they know about American eel populations, and how concerned they are with their dwindling populations.
Given these circumstances, why are Commissioner Lapointe and the State of Maine's regulatory authorities not taking more decisive action than asking the dam owners to please stop?
We do not know.
In October of 1999 a large kill of baby alewives took place at the Benton Falls facility and the facility was fined by the Maine authorities.
Today in 2004 the Maine Attorney Generals Office claims the state has no legal recourse in this matter.
The above account is not intended to disparage Mr. Lapointe. It is to point out what appears to be a gaping disconnect.
To acknowledge that the eel may be endangered, and then stand by silently while the adult female population of a six hundred thousand acre watershed is slaughtered does not make sense.
Again, these eel kills are not accidents. They happen every fall, year after year after year.
If it wasn't for the efforts of my brother, Doug Watts, if he was not raising Kane about it, if we were not writing about and posting pictures of it, no one would be aware of it, except for state and federal regulatory authorities.
These authorities charged with protecting our natural treasures know this happens here and in many other places year after year, and they do nothing to prevent it.
In March, 2002 Maine DMR published its annual report of the "recovery" of the Kennebec and Sebasticook River and stated verbatim of the Benton Falls Dam.....
"An underwater camera revealed a deep hole below the tailrace that contained many portions of eel carcasses in various states of decay. It was apparent these eels had been killed by turbine blades .... Based on two years data, the surface bypass at Benton Falls is not efficient at passing eels."