Today you’re hearing from Justin Dalaba, our outreach coordinator for the New York Field Office. He graduated this summer from St. Lawrence University with a bachelor of science in conservation biology.
We took another look (and so can you, through the map below) at the St. Regis River and its tributaries that are restored from the removal of Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam in Upstate New York. And we have great news!
After our map analysis, there appears to be more habitat open to migrating fish than we originally estimated. The next blockages existing upstream of the Hogansburg Dam include the St. Regis Falls Dam, Allens Falls Dam and Deer River Dam. Based on these three known barriers, we estimated that there are 555 miles of restored St. Regis River tributaries now available to migrating fish.
This is more than double the original estimate of 275 miles! [Note for clarification: We did exclude areas that were determined to be inaccessible to migrating fish, such as through a culvert or low water levels].
Watch this all unfold through the above time-lapse of the Hogansburg Dam removal put together by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Environment Division.
Check out the rapid changes to the St. Regis River even after just removing the west side of Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam. More like a river, less like a lake! Photo courtesy of Tony David.
Today you’re hearing from Justin Dalaba, our new outreach coordinator for the New York Field Office. He graduated this summer from St. Lawrence University with a bachelor of science in conservation biology. Welcome Justin!
Near the mouth of the St. Regis River in Franklin County, New York, are the final remnants of the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam.
The 330-foot-long dam blocked migrating fish and hindered a way of life for over 85 years. The dam neighbors the Saint Regis Mohawk reservation, also known as Akwesasne, and is part of the Tribe’s decades old boundary claim. Talk among stakeholders about decommissioning the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Project, owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy, began in the early stages of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, aka FERC, relicensing nearly five years ago.
Here’s what you should know:
Hogansburg is the first hydroelectric dam in New York State to be fully removed. Plus, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is the first Tribe in the U.S. to remove a FERC-licensed hydroelectric dam! Hogansburg Dam has been the site for various mills and dams since 1762, with the initial construction of the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam we know today in 1929. The project underwent a thorough review in 2015, when FERC needed to begin the project’s relicensing process. For Brookfield, relicensing would mean costly mechanical and environmental work. Our agency, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Trout Unlimited, and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, offered an alternative—decommission the dam in disrepair. The Tribe took the lead, ultimately returning project lands to the Mohawk people. FERC issued a decommissioning order in June 2016, followed two months later by removal that is now near completion.
Removal of Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam gets underway. Credit: Stephen Patch, USFWS
And it’s gone! Credit: Stephen Patch, USFWS
The removal of Hogansburg Dam has reconnected nearly 275 miles of main stem and tributary habitat for migratory fish. Removing Hogansburg Dam, the first dam on the St. Regis River, will re-establish the river’s direct connection to the St. Lawrence River. For nearly a century, the dam has blocked this important stream habitat to fish migrating from the St. Lawrence River within the St. Regis watershed. The key fish that will benefit from removal of the dam include the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), and walleye (Sander vitreus).
Juvenile lake sturgeon, one of the species expected to benefit from the dam removal. Credit: Justin Dalaba, USFWS
Removing Hogansburg Dam restores historic territory that has shaped the Mohawk peoples’ way of life. The Mohawk people of Akwesasne have a deeply rooted history in a subsistence lifestyle including hunting and fishing along the expansive network of rivers connecting the St. Lawrence River to the Adirondacks. This was changed when early settlers reshaped the network of tributaries for natural resource and hydroelectric power exploitation.With funding from a variety of private and federal sources, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was able to have a direct hand in the Hogansburg Dam removal and studying pre and post removal conditions. Decommissioning of the Hogansburg Project means the repatriation of land to the Tribe surrounding the river. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe will continue working with other stakeholders to study changes following the dam removal.
Let the heavy machinery have at it! Photo courtesy of Tony David.
This removed dam does not mean lost power. The poorly functioning Hogansburg Dam provided a miniscule amount of the power supplied for New York (if you want to be exact, 0.00058%). While the project could power 74 households per year in total, it was in need of significant resources to run, repair and upgrade the facility. In comparison, the much larger Moses-Saunders Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River matches Hogansburg’s annual power output roughly every 30 minutes. The Moses-Saunders Power Dam produces more than enough electricity to light a city the size of Washington, D.C.!
The removal of Hogansburg Dam is a stepping-stone toward future conservation. While removing this dam does not restore the entire landscape, it is an important starting point toward meeting migratory fish restoration goals and restoring land for the Tribe. This is an opportunity for scientists, including our agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, to work with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to monitor the success of the dam removal and future habitat enhancement.
Stephen Patch, senior fish & wildlife biologist at the New York Field Office, stands among the final remnants of the Hogansburg Dam. Steve has been an integral part of the dam removal. Credit: Anne Secord, USFWS.
If you enjoy fishing in the St. Lawrence River, you can thank Stephen Patch, Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the New York Field Office, for his contributions to fisheries conservation.
Steve recently received the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited’s Professional Resource Award for his outstanding work in ensuring that dam operators and power producers meet rigid standards regarding water flows, fish protection and other issues affecting fish habitat and propagation.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires dam licenses to be reviewed every 30 to 50 years. During relicensing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts environmental reviews and suggests conditions or approaches a company must make to improve fish and wildlife habitat. Steve has played a major role in many hydroelectric project relicensings in New York, all of which have received new licenses that improve the general ecology of the stream.
Trout Unlimited NY Chapter President, Rob Urban (left) and Region 5 Chairman and Hydro Coordinator, Bill Wellman (right), presents Steve Patch with his award at a general meeting in Cold Brook, NY.
St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project on the St. Lawrence River
Goal: Address the issue of downstream eel passage on the St. Lawrence River
Action: Steve helped create the Eel Passage Research Center, which will develop measures to help guide eel and collect them for passage or transport downstream around the two large dams on the river (the Moses-Saunders Dam and the Beauharnois Dam). He was also instrumental in developing the $24 million Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund (FEMRF) to benefit multiple fish species, including eel.
Result: This 5-year, $3.5 million project will benefit American eel and European eel populations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The FEMRF money has helped fund some of the eel work and improve habitat for species such as northern pike, walleye and lake sturgeon.
An eel ladder on the Moses-Saunders Dam allows eels to climb to the top, and out to the other side of the dam through a series of pipes.
Hogansburg dam removal
Goal: Remove the Hogansburg dam
Action: Steve helped initiate decommissioning negotiations between Brookfield Power and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe for the purpose of dam removal. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process is complex, so Steve is working with Brookfield Power, the tribe and other partners to find a workable solution for dam removal.
Result: Once negotiations are complete, dam removal will open up several hundred miles of mainstem and tributary habitat to a variety of fish species, including American eel, Atlantic salmon and lake sturgeon.
Goal: Create settlements that will improve current and future hydroelectric projects
Action: Steve has helped with settlements on the St. Lawrence, Black, Beaver, Oswegatchie, Raquette, St. Regis, Saranac, Hoosic, Sacandaga, Hudson and Oswego Rivers.
Results: (1.) The settlements have created hundreds of miles of new or improved aquatic habitat, allowing fish to safely pass many dams. (2.) Established a baseline of measures that most hydro developers now strive to include in all new licenses and new project proposals.
“Fish and fishermen in every part of New York can be grateful to Steve Patch for his dedication and talent in protecting one of our most fragile natural resources,” said Ron Urban, Chairman of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited.
So the next time you go fishing or visit a waterway, think about all of the conservation work done to protect such an important ecosystem!