Letter: A Call To Defend The Connecticut River


Turners Falls Dam. Photo: Paul Franz / Flckr.com. (CC BY-ND 2.0) (https://www.flickr.com/photos/masstravel/29464169553)

Environmental activists from Amherst and surrounding Western Mass towns are sounding the alarm about federal relicensing of the Turner’s Falls Dam and Northfield Pump Station.  Relicensing of these facilities, operated by Canadian-owned FirstLight Power, will enter a critical phase this spring, when Massachusetts state agencies and residents of the commonwealth have a unique and important opportunity to speak out to demand greater protection for the Connecticut River.  

The FirstLight facilities wreak tremendous ecological damage on the Connecticut River, yet few local residents are aware of the  harm being done.  The Turners Falls dam blocks the movement of the vast majority of migratory fish and other aquatic animals and critically dewaters habitat downstream from the dam. The Northfield project causes huge daily fluctuations in water level, killing all aquatic life that is sucked uphill by the pump to the upper Northfield Reservoir.  Northfield causes so much daily fluctuation in river levels that it can make the river run backwards for miles.

FirstLight itself acknowledges that the fish that are sucked up every day have no expectation of survival.  Yet the company applauds itself for delivering “environmental and economic benefits” to Massachusetts residents and touts the energy it produces as “clean hydropower”, failing to mention that the Northfield facility runs on dirty fossil fuel electricity from the grid and uses more energy than it generates.  

There is no question that the FirstLight facilities generate huge amounts of electricity (despite the net loss of energy at Northfield) – in a 2020 press release the company claimed to be delivering 200 million kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power 200,000 homes – and there is no question that FirstLight Power earns huge profits from its operations.  But the environmental cost to the Connecticut River and its ecosystem is never mentioned and the river itself has no voice.  Swapping one form of extractive, environmentally destructive practice for another to meet our ever-growing energy needs is not the solution to the dire environmental crisis we face. 

Starting this spring, federal relicensing will move into a critical phase.  Mass DEP will be called on to determine whether the FirstLight facilities comply with the Federal Clean Water Act (which they do not), and what conditions should be imposed on any new licenses that are issued, which could run as long as another 50 years.  It is incumbent upon Massachusetts residents to become  informed about the serious harm caused by large-scale hydropower facilities like those of FirstLight. We need strong participation in the upcoming public hearings, and citizens to be  pushing hard for strict environmental conditions to be placed on any renewed licenses.

An Amherst-based group, Western Mass Rights of Nature, is seeking to greatly increase pressure on State officials to take this ecological crisis seriously rather than rubber-stamping the relicensing. They are asking residents to help launch their efforts by signing onto a letter demanding action from the State. Sign that letter here –  MA Rights of Nature petition.

Other groups working to draw attention to the impact of the FirstLight facilities include: the Connecticut River Conservancy,  Greening Greenfield , and Connecticut River Defenders.

Lundy Bancroft grew up in Amherst and is a long-time Western Mass climate and labor activist.

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2 thoughts on “Letter: A Call To Defend The Connecticut River

  1. Amazing article with critically important information for all of us who care for the future of life in our region and beyond!!!

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