Save the Ohio River Basin Lake Sturgeon #INlakesturgeon

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FISH (Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc.) is proposing removal of Williams Dam in order to:
1. Enhance the habitat and viability of the remnant population of Ohio River basin lake sturgeon which exists in about 50 miles of the East Fork White River below the dam; and 2. Provide new recreation and business opportunities in the village of Williams, Indiana and the vicinity.

Background:

In May 2018 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government  to protect lake sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In the Fall of 2018 the hydropower company surrendered its license to generate electricity at Williams Dam.

On May 29, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity was joined by FISH, Hoosier Environmental Council, and Illinois Environmental Council in sending a Notice of Intent to sue the federal government for not responding to the lake sturgeon petition of the year prior. You can access the Notice at this link: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/fish/pdfs/NOI-Lake-Sturgeon-29-05-2019.pdf

On August 14, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity announced that the federal government is considering Endangered Species Act  protection for the lake sturgeon: https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/iconic-sturgeon-great-lakes-mississippi-river-take-step-toward-endangered-species-protection-2019-08-14/

The federal government’s finding was published in the Federal Register on August 15, along with a request for public comment: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/15/2019-17569/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-90-day-findings-for-three-species

We are currently monitoring the progress of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s progress regarding their plans for the lake sturgeon, while considering our next steps to ensure compliance with the ESA.

Please Contribute to and Share Our Fundraiser!

FISH has started a GoFundMe campaign to finance the initial stages of the work to save Indiana’s lake sturgeon. #INlakesturgeon

Please see full details of our proposal, and what we’re trying to do for Indiana’s lake sturgeon, at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-the-ohio-river-basin-lake-sturgeon

Please consider donating, and it would be a big help if you can share the campaign with your friends and colleagues. There are “sharing” links on the campaign page. Thank you!

Gary W. Moody
Director, Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH)
www.FREETHERIVER.com
www.facebook.com/FISHindiana.org/
https://twitter.com/FISHIndiana @FISHIndiana
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRgAyUtd7kEOJX9jIICnmWw

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FISH Celebrates World Rivers Day by Launching Campaign to Save Indiana’s Endangered Lake Sturgeon

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World Rivers Day 2019, set for September 22, is a global celebration of our rivers. Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) is marking the occasion by launching a campaign to save the last of the Ohio River basin’s lake sturgeon, which survive in a small, dammed stretch of river in Southern Indiana. Learn more and support our campaign by visiting http://bit.ly/INlakesturgeon

Indianapolis, Indiana, September 18, 2019 – (freetheriver.com) – Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) is celebrating this weekend’s 15th Annual World Rivers Day #worldriversday (Sunday, Sept. 22, Worldwide) by launching its campaign to save Indiana’s lake sturgeon #INlakesturgeon: Our small remnant population of genetically-distinct lake sturgeon which historically inhabited the Ohio River and many thousands of miles of its tributaries in the Ohio River basin. That pre-Colonial, pre-industrial range includes what today are 527 U.S. Counties; in other words, the entire state of Kentucky plus parts of 14 others.

Today, these magnificent animals, which first evolved in the early Jurassic era, and can grow to over 7 feet in length and over 300 pounds, survive only in about 50 miles of the East Fork White River in southern Indiana. Since 1912 their spawning migrations have been blocked by Williams Dam, a former hydropower facility where generation ceased in 1958, with ownership deeded to the State of Indiana afterward. Its only use for the past 60 years has been a platform for small numbers of fishermen.

At the beginning of 2014 FISH began fighting a scheme to restore power generation at Williams Dam. That battle was won last Fall when the hydropower license was surrendered. FISH also coordinated with the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups, and in May of last year we called for protections for Indiana’s lake sturgeon, and legal proceedings began to declare them (and other lake sturgeon nationwide) as endangered, and thus protected, under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently agreed, in general, with our petition, but we are keeping a close eye on that process.

As the culmination of these efforts, and in order to ensure that Indiana’s lake sturgeon not only survive the looming threat of climate change – among other possible catastrophes – but also thrive to the extent that they can be restored to much of their historic range, FISH is proposing the following:

1. Removal of Williams Dam. This will restore and connect much of the East Fork’s ecology and habitat, and allow the lake sturgeon to migrate upstream to spawn as they did prior to construction of the dam. Other threatened and endangered species will also benefit. This was the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s plan in 2004, as stated in a letter to Senator Lugar, along with the assurance that provisions could be made to ensure the City of Bedford’s water supply.

2. Provide recreational facilities at and access to the East Fork White River for paddlers and fishermen, and boost the local economy with tourism and recreation. Many communities across the USA have removed dangerous low-head “deadbeat dams” in order to restore rivers and repurpose them for wildlife and recreation. The shining example in the Midwest is Dayton’s RiverScape River Run and associated Metropark facilities, both urban and rural. Their brilliant solutions provide their community, and visitors, with not only enhanced natural settings, but also whitewater kayaking! While surfing on the East Fork may not be likely, it’s time to study the possibilities for adding to what is already a wonderful array of recreation and tourism opportunities in Lawrence County and the vicinity.

FISH will work with its environmental allies as well as local, state, and federal officials to find win-win solutions for both Indiana’s lake sturgeon, and the Hoosiers who live near them. We invite Hoosiers, our Ohio River neighbors, and fans of rivers, fish, and nature worldwide to join us in celebrating World Rivers Day, and to please learn about our plan and how to support it by visiting:

http://bit.ly/INlakesturgeon

We also appreciate the use of the hashtag #INlakesturgeon on social media, and please visit our other sites online:

http://www.FREETHERIVER.com
www.facebook.com/FISHindiana.org/
https://twitter.com/FISHIndiana

Gary W. Moody
Director, Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH)
fishableindiana@gmail.com
@FISHIndiana

(Gary W. Moody is a graduate of San Francisco State University, Purdue’s Indiana Watershed Leadership Academy, and is an Indiana Master Naturalist, Indiana Tree Steward, and Certified Watershed Manager.)

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We’re gonna save the river after all! THE PROJECT WILL NOT HAPPEN!

good-news-everyoneThe Williams Dam hydro licensee has filed an APPLICATION FOR SURRENDER OF LICENSE, which you can download for yourself at this link: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20180806-5125FISH has filed the following comment today:

Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH)
PO Box 11007
Indianapolis, IN 46201-0007

August 8, 2018

Kimberly, D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426

Re: Comment by FISH upon Williams Dam Hydroelectric Project, FERC No. P-13346 – APPLICATION FOR SURRENDER OF LICENSE

Filed Electronically

Dear Secretary Bose,

As the primary opponent of this project since our February 24, 2014 motion for late intervention, Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) wishes to express our support for Paynebridge LLC’s application for surrender of its License, which was issued by FERC on August 8, 2014.

In our letter of May 25, 2018, and filed in this docket, we summarized some of the history of the long process leading to FERC’s decision to issue a license for this project. That process was, in a word, poor. It began with appallingly insufficient notice to the public, particularly the primary stakeholders: The citizens of Indiana, who own Williams Dam. That almost total lack of engagement with the public continued until the last official deadline for public involvement, prior to issuance of the license, had passed. All of that may be attributed to a lack of respect for the public, and a deference to special interests. That is a moral consideration, perhaps, that can’t be quantified. The bottom line however is: Had there been a reasonably adequate process in this case, very large sums of private capital (expenditures by Paynebridge et al), and considerable public expense and resources, could conceivably have been conserved. We hope that FERC officials and staff, other agencies, and lawmakers, will learn from that sad tale and take every opportunity to do better in similar cases, whether those are currently open or yet to be filed.

On this occasion we look forward to the day when the East Fork of the White River is finally free of the archaic structure blocking it: Williams Dam. We look forward to the day when all of the animal inhabitants of the river, particularly its threatened and endangered species: the remnant population of lake sturgeon above all; can travel right through the village of Williams unimpeded, to reach as much of their former range as possible, to live and multiply as they did before the early 20th Century when man shackled the river with Williams Dam. And we support the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) determination, made back in the days when that agency was free to guide its actions by science and public benefit rather than politics and profit, to be rid of Williams Dam. We hereby reiterate and renew our support for IDNR’s determination, as expressed in its letter to Senator Richard Lugar dated April 8, 2004:

“Due to its deteriorating condition, the high cost of reconstruction, and the negative environmental impacts posed by the dam, we feel that decommissioning is in the State’s best interest, both economically and ecologically, and can be accomplished in a manner that will accomplish water supply needs for the City of Bedford.”

FISH and its friends and allies stand ready to assist in that process.

Respectfully,
Gary W. Moody, Director
Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH)

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We’ve submitted the petition to Sen. Donnelly and are moving forward!

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! And patience! Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) recently presented Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana with our petition, signed by 1054 Hoosiers, Americans, and concerned friends worldwide, requesting his attention and assistance regarding Williams Dam, the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) awarded a 50-year license to generate hydropower at Williams Dam, and how the dam and the license affect threatened and endangered species in the East Fork of the White River. The petition was written in 2016, and we were set back somewhat by the election. However, earlier this month our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to declare the lake sturgeon, particularly the remnant population in the East Fork, an Endangered Species. CBD also gave notice that it would sue the federal government to advance protection for a federally listed endangered mussel found in the East Fork. Therefore we felt that the time for action is now! IF the holder of the hydropower license moves ahead with their project, against the interests of Hoosiers and our environment, then we and our friends will demand the utmost in state-of-the-art technology and programs to protect the lake sturgeon, and all other threatened and endangered species in the East Fork White River and its watershed! (Pictured: Deputy State Director Brandon Herget accepting petition on behalf of Sen. Donnelly from FISH Director G. Moody)

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The text of our letter to Senator Donnelly:

May 24, 2018

The Honorable Joe Donnelly
United States Senate
115 N. Pennsylvania Street Suite 100
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Dear Senator Donnelly:

Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) is pleased to present you this day with our petition, signed by 1054 Hoosiers, Americans, and concerned friends worldwide, requesting your attention and assistance regarding Williams Dam, the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) awarded a 50-year license to generate hydropower at Williams Dam, and how the dam and the license affect threatened and endangered species in the East Fork of the White River (EFWR). FISH intends to submit requests for information to FERC and the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and may need your assistance in facilitating those. We would also like to share that information with you, and thereby improve both the current situation regarding Williams Dam, and also similar processes involving those agencies in the future.

We are also requesting your assistance in improving and protecting the ecosystem, as required or encouraged by federal law, in the EFWR, particularly with respect to the adverse affects upon that ecosystem imposed by Williams Dam. In that regard, we support and would like to bring to your attention the petition to the federal government by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) entitled Petition to List U.S. Populations of Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) as Endangered or Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, dated May 14, 2018.

Similarly, we support and would like to bring to your attention CBD’s Sixty-day Notice of Intent to Sue for Violations of the Endangered Species Act Relating to Failure to Designate Critical Habitat for snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra), rayed bean (Villosa fabalis), sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus), and spectaclecase (Cumberlandia monodonta) mussels, dated May 2, 2018, given to Secretary Zinke et al.

Williams Dam was constructed circa 1912 to generate hydropower, which ceased in 1958. Ownership was then tranferred to the State of Indiana. After numerous schemes to reactivate the dam were proposed and rejected over many years, the state, during the administration of Governor Kernan, finally concluded that the best course of action was to remove the dam “Due to its deteriorating condition, the high cost of reconstruction, and the negative environmental impacts posed by the dam…” (DNR letter to Senator Lugar, April 4, 2004, attached.)

During the administration of Mitch Daniels and Lawrence County’s own Becky Skillman, however, a new scheme was proposed under the guise of “green energy” for Crane Naval Weapons Station. Thus began a long federal-state process to obtain a hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a process unknown to all but a handful of Hoosiers, even though the public owns the dam. (Public notice consisted of the bare minimum under federal law, mostly notices to tribes, historical agencies, etc., a couple of legal ads in the Bedford Times, the Federal Register of course, and a public meeting in the village of Williams.) By the time this rather secretive process was revealed by the applicant (Free Flow Power, aka Paynebridge LLC, now “Rye Development”) in December 2013, it was a “done deal.” Although key deadlines had passed, FISH petitioned to intervene in the process. FERC denied our intervention as “unfair to the applicant.” FISH nevertheless raised numerous environmental and legal objections. FERC, ultimately, was mostly silent on the matter for nearly five months. We assume that they were considering the law.

On Aug. 13, 2014, the head of the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council wrote a letter (attached) to then-Congressman Todd Young on behalf of Free Flow, complaining that “this project is having trouble in getting a license issued from the (FERC) Federal Energy Regulatory Commission… they are dragging their heals [sic] and as a result might cause a derailment in the total project.”

The next day, Congressman Young sent a letter (attached) to FERC’s Congressional liaison, expressing his “interest” and telling FERC to “review and extend every consideration” to his “constituent”, with the Lawrence County group’s letter attached. Twenty-five days later, FERC issued a 50-year license to Free Flow Power to reconstruct Williams Dam and generate power with it. In their rebuttal to the comments of FISH and others, FERC made various errors and questionable statements. Furthermore, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had the legal right to require in the license that fish passage be installed, which they failed to do. When questioned about that by phone, a USFWS regional official exclaimed “WHAT endangered species?” Letters and petitions to USFWS Director Daniel Ashe went unanswered.

Williams dam blocks passage, recruitment, and recovery of various species, some threatened or endangered, including Bluebreast Darter, Spotted Darter, Tippecanoe Darter, Lake Sturgeon, Sauger, hosts of fanshell pearly mussel, sheepnose mussel, rough pigtoe mussel, etc. Asian carp passed Williams Dam during the 2008 floods (and perhaps other times since), although FERC denied that fact in a statement included in its licensing decision.

The remnant population of lake sturgeon in the EFWR below Williams Dam is of particular concern. The following is an excerpt from CBD’s petition:

Lake sturgeon were formerly common in the White River (INDNR 2006). A small stretch of the East Fork of the White River now contains the only remaining lake sturgeon population in the entire Ohio River drainage (INDNR 2006; Simon 2006; Drauch et al. 2008). ..

In 2005 lake sturgeon spawning (several fish) was documented in the East Fork White River for the first time and larval lake sturgeon were collected from the river just below the spawning area (INDNR 2006). The only known spawning area in East Fork White River is just downstream from Williams Dam, a hydropower structure built in 1913 that is a barrier to further upstream movement of lake sturgeon (INDNR 2013). Lake sturgeon have been documented spawning below Williams Dam every year since 2005; nearly 100 individual lake sturgeon have been identified (INDNR 2013).

A study through Purdue University was completed in 2006 to determine if the genetic structure of the East Fork White River lake sturgeon population is unique. Results showed these fish to be genetically distinct from other lake sturgeon populations, sufficiently different enough from Great Lake populations to warrant conservation as a distinct population, and that they do not appear to be contaminated by non-native stocks (Drauch et al. 2008). Drauch et al. (2008) concluded that any type of augmentation to the East Fork White River population or reintroductions in other parts of the Ohio River drainage should only be attempted using East Fork White River lake sturgeon.

Therefore, from its historical range throughout the Ohio River watershed, this lake sturgeon sub-species, if you will, has shrank to a very small population which is bottled up below Williams Dam, its range consisting (according to state and federal wildlife officials) only of Martin County and the west side of Lawrence County. Obviously, extreme conditions such as severe drought or a chemical spill could decimate or even eliminate that population altogether. Furthermore, the FERC licensing process and decision did not take adequately, if at all, consider the affects of climate change on the river and its ecosystem, a factor which by itself adds a major threat to the sturgeon and its imperiled neighbors.

The best solution to the problem of Williams Dam, still, is to remove it, which again, was the State’s determination the last time that our state’s environmental and wildlife professionals were given free reign to exercise their judgment based upon science. Nevertheless, if the dam is going to remain in place for any period, FISH and its colleagues will insist upon full protection for endangered and threatened species in the river. That should start with the construction of a state-of-the-art fish passage around Williams Dam, and all other measures necessary to protect those species, and indeed, to further their recovery in the entire EFWR range and watershed. Similar measures are normal and expected of many other hydropower licensees nationwide. The Williams Dam situation should be no different.

Finally, please note that the petition we are submitting was written in the Spring of 2016. Some of the language and terminology in the petition reflects that. Please be assured that any requests to you, and our all of our efforts and cooperation in this matter, will be made with mindfulness of your relationship with your fellow member of the Senate, and with cordiality and respect uppermost. We are still concerned about the appearance of political influence upon FERC’s process, but we wish to use any information revealed about that to, again, improve the situation regarding Williams Dam specifically, and also to improve similar licensing processes in future.

In summary, thank you very much for receiving our petition and its accompanying documents, and we look forward to working with you to working with you on this matter.

Respectfully,
Gary W. Moody
Director, Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH)

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PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION ON WILLIAMS DAM!

There’s a NEW petition, citing Congressman Todd Young’s 2014 intervention in the federal licensing process for permission to rebuild Williams Dam and generate hydropower there. And also, the failure of the US Fish & Wildlife Service to at least mandate fish passage at the project. We’re petitioning Senator Joe Donnelly to:

  1. Expose and provide any further evidence of political meddling in FERC’s processing of this application (FERC # P-13346), particularly by Congressman Todd Young and/or his staff;
  2. Determine what other violations or poor practices may have occurred among the various federal agencies involved with this application, particularly those leading to the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to neglect its duty to prescribe the construction, operation and maintenance of fishways in this project;
  3. Take urgent action on the request, by signers of this petition, that steps be taken to fully insure the health and integrity of the East Fork White River ecosystem, particularly by allowing or installing fish passage on the river at Williams, Indiana.

Please go to: https://www.change.org/p/joe-donnelly-expose-political-meddling-in-williams-dam-hydropower-license-wildlife-decisions (full version)
OR
Please go to: http://ow.ly/VUGK304U2aZ (shortened version on change.org)
Want to help spread the word? Our email is: fish.indiana@yahoo.com

 

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