Friday, September 7, 2012

The River and the Rhetoric--Who Speaks for the River

Protests On the Water

Connecticut River.  View from near my house.
My river runs through it.  It's not just their river.
The Sage Alliance is planning an anti-Vermont Yankee flotilla tomorrow on the Connecticut River.  The title of their rally is Our River Runs Through It: Flotilla and Rally to Stop VT Yankee Pollution   The opponents continue to assert, in word and action, that Vermont Yankee thermal pollution is killing the fish in the Connecticut River.

As a matter of fact, Arnie Gundersen has stated that there are only sixteen shad left in the Connecticut River.  My blog post about this statement: Hot Climate and Cold Fish: Gundersen's Debate Misstatements received over thirty comments.  Most of the comments told me that Gundersen was right and who was I to say that he was wrong?

Let's start with "Who am I to say Gundersen is wrong?" Well, I live a hop and skip from the river, which is more than Gundersen can say. More particularly, let's look at the people who claim to care about the Connecticut River.

Graphic from Watershed Council website
The Connecticut River Watershed Council

David Deen, a Vermont Legislator and river guide, is River Steward for the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River Watershed Council.  Deen will be one of the key speakers at the anti-Vermont Yankee flotilla.  The Connecticut River Watershed Council paid for reports that claim that Vermont Yankee is "baking" the wildlife.  A report issued in August received much media attention. This article in the Brattleboro Reformer describes Deen going to Entergy offices with cookies, and trying to hand them the report.

Interestingly, only one media outlet, WCAX, included this quote from Deen about the report: "We are not saying that Entergy is in violation of their permit. But what we are saying is that the formula that the permit is based on, ANR is not collecting a critical piece of data," said David Deen of the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

I thank Adam Sullivan and WCAX for putting the Watershed Council's cookie-baking in context.  Entergy is not in violation of their permit.  The Watershed people just don't like the permit.

Who is the Connecticut River Watershed Council?

When I first heard of the Watershed Council, I thought it was a consortium of government entities that are affected by Connecticut River watershed issues. After all, watersheds cross county lines, township lines, state lines.  A council of government agencies is usually required to manage a watershed properly.  The title of this organization would lead a person toward that conclusion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  This is an advocacy organization, like the Sierra Club or VPIRG.  Its name is as clever as VPIRG's name: Vermont Public Interest Research Group.  How many headlines have I read saying "Research Group says VY should close" (or words to that effect).  The "research group" was VPIRG, of course.  Naming an organization well can be a great advantage.

I should have guessed the Watershed Council was an advocacy group.  Deen is a River Steward with the group. Most government programs have "chairpersons" or "planning specialists."  They don't have River Stewards.  That's a title from Merry Olde England,  or maybe from Tolkien.

The Connecticut River Joint Commissions

Map of the Connecticut
From the Connecticut River Joint Commissions
In contrast, there is an official body concerned with Connecticut River watershed issues.  The Connecticut River Joint Commissions consists of legislative advisory bodies concerned with the Connecticut River. The Joint Commissions were set up by the New Hampshire and Vermont legislatures.  Fifty three Towns (in Vermont and New Hampshire) border on the Connecticut.

River management is divided into Local Committees, each responsible for understanding and advising on a section of the river. The selectmen of each town appoint up to two members of the Local Committee.  It is truly a citizen's advisory body, and does a great deal of planning.  For example, the Water Resources Management Plan provides significant guidance for many topics along the river.

The Connecticut River Join Commission holds meetings and work weekends.  It advises on permitting, boat safety, and non-point-source discharge concerns.

Who Speaks for the River?

The Watershed Council claims to speak for the Connecticut River. To some extent, it may.  It has paid staff, but it is also a volunteer group, and volunteer groups are important.  However, in this case, the group has become self-important, constantly attacking Vermont Yankee.  For example, the group claims that that the thermal plume from Vermont Yankee can be detected fifty miles downstream to Holyoke, Massachusetts. Considering that the river flows through Vernon Dam and is diverted to the Northfield Pumped Storage plant before getting to Holyoke, a thermal plume visible that far downstream is improbable, to say the least.

 The Watershed people paid for a study that claimed the plume was visible and the delta-T (temperature change) remained in the river fifty miles downstream. I find this study unconvincing, as it mixes critiques of computer models, dye-tests in the river, and measurements. It seems to claim the only thing that could be heating anything downriver is...the thermal plume from Vermont Yankee.  I admit, however, that I am not a hydrologist.

To me, the study looks like a mish-mash with an agenda. The only thing the study considers is the thermal plume from Vermont Yankee.  Any temperature change is because of the thermal plume from Vermont Yankee.  Pumped storage...not mentioned.  Evaporative cooling from the river...not mentioned. Sunny days, rainy days...not mentioned. Mt. Tom coal-fired plant upriver of Holyoke...not mentioned.  Vermont Yankee controls all. Or at least, it controls the entire hypothesis.  No alternate explanations need apply.

On the basis of this work, the group now acts as if it is a fact that thermal plumes can survive dams, pumping stations, pumped storage reservoirs, and fifty miles of river.  This is advocacy gone mad, in my opinion.

The Commission Speaks For Most of Us

In my opinion, the Watershed Council  group and its Stewards have their own agenda, which seems to have very little to do with what happens on the  Connecticut River.  On the other hand, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions are made up of local people who do not hold archaic titles. These people are far more likely to speak for the river, in my opinion.

And they speak for me.  After all, it's my river, too.

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