Water is essential for life.
This is a widely known fact, so it should come as no surprise that communities are constantly seeking ways to maintain these life sustaining functions while also balancing the need for economic growth and power production.
One community in upstate New York is bringing this ecological balance to light. The Beaver Falls hydroelectric project in Beaver Falls, NY, has been the first of the large pulse of projects seeking to renew its federal license to operate in the Black River basin. At this project, there are two dams (Upper and Lower Beaver Falls) that operate together to make power.
Hydroelectric projects work by using the potential energy held in our rivers and streams to generate electricity to power homes and business all over the state. However, they divert flows out of the river to generate power and can dry up sections of the river and alter natural flows. In addition, hydropower facilities segment rivers and prevent aquatic species from moving freely to find the resources they need to grow and be healthy.
The New York Field Office worked with Eagle Creek Renewable Energy and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to complete a settlement agreement that will be included in a new federal license for the project. This settlement agreement helps to reconnect the river, restore aquatic habitat, improve fish passage and protection, and improves recreational access for the Beaver River and the communities that depend on it.
This reconnection at Beaver Falls has positive impacts for wildlife. Fish species that will benefit from the Beaver Falls Settlement include walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, chain pickerel, northern pike, eastern blacknose dace, rock bass, brown bullhead, white sucker, fallfish, tiger muskellunge. Not to mention the benefits for smaller macroinvertebrates that serve as food for fish, mussels, and riparian foraging birds. The watershed is also a major destination for scenic viewing, camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, boating, and other outdoor recreational pursuits. A win for wildlife is a win for people.
This settlement agreement at Beaver Falls is the first of many that will help to protect wildlife, promote aquatic connectivity, and increase recreation opportunities in New York communities surrounding the Black River.
New York Fish and Wildlife Biologist John Wiley discussed the broader picture for the basin, “The Black River Basin has one of the highest concentrations of hydropower facilities in the country. Nearly all of these will be relicensing in the next decade, and we will work to reconnect, restore, and improve the rivers in the basin, just like we did at Beaver Falls. Doing all this work at the same time is also a once in a generation opportunity to make changes that can have a large and lasting impact for the people and the species that are connected to these rivers. “
When we focus on the connection between the land and water quality, watershed planning is of the utmost importance. This type of planning allows for the management of land uses in a way that recognizes the relationship between economic, social, and natural processes.
By supporting this large basin wide effort we encourage safer and more sustainable watershed protection, support our fisheries, and protect wildlife habitat for a more biodiverse landscape for years to come.