ELLSWORTH — A fish kill on the Union River last week is being blamed on high water flows at the Leonard Lake dam.
The company that operates the facility said it had taken all needed steps to reduce harm to migrating juvenile alewives.
Last Wednesday, a fisherman spotted large numbers of dead or injured baby alewives in the Union River below the hydroelectric dam operated by Brookfield Renewable Partners LP.
Brett Ciccotelli, a biologist for the Downeast Salmon Federation, visited the site, which he described as “full of dead river herring.”
According to Ciccotelli “the water column — the flow of the river — was thick with dead or dying baby river herring, their scales, their fins, their popped eyeballs.”
He said that he observed that the dam “was spilling large amounts of water.”
In an email last Friday, Brookfield spokeswoman Samantha Edwards said that earlier in the week company employees saw that the lake above the dam was full of outmigrating juvenile alewives “and altered our operations accordingly.”
According to Edwards, the company is “monitoring the situation and responding to real-time conditions.”
Those real-time conditions were complicated by the torrential rains that fell over most of Maine last Thursday, which significantly increased water levels in the state’s lakes and rivers.
Currently, renewal of the federal license for the Ellsworth dam is under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Among the environmental issues under review are up- and downstream fish passage. Some changes to current practices have been suggested by agencies such as NOAA Fisheries, but no particular changes have been required as yet.
According to Edwards, Brookfield implemented its “migration policy” in mid-June before the outmigration of juvenile alewives began. It’s “two-pronged approach,” running generator units “which have been demonstrated … to be safer for downstream fish passage” and “temporary shutdown of all units if (fish) mortalities are observed” was “discussed and developed in conjunction with state agencies.”
Last week, Edwards said, staff on site at the dam “initiated the temporary shutdown on Tuesday and Wednesday when outmigration of juvenile alewives were observed.”