FirstEnergy presents ecological data on hydro generation plant

The studies are in.

Over approximately four and a half hours Thursday morning, FirstEnergy shared the results of project impact studies required for its relicensing bid at the Kinzua Pumped-Storage Hydro-Project.

The area encompassed by the study covered the Kinzua Project area and an additional 100-foot buffer zone. A total of 317 acres was studied overall.

The study found no rare species or habitat within the study area. While no rare, threatened or endangered species were detected within the project area, the study did find hellbenders, mudpuppies and spiny softshell turtles downstream in the Allegheny River. Some invasive species were detected in areas where the project has impacted ecology, but it was determined the species could not survive in the natural ecology outside of the project area.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Pennsylvania Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all concluded the continuation of activities at the project site does not further impact area biology.

Just over 11 acres of wetland-type area were recognized, including six acres of emergent, 4.48 acres of forested and .68 of an acre of scrub wetlands. The study advised continued protection of wetland areas.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65th) asked, “Was there a study such as this done in the ’60s prior to construction… or does this study and the (Seneca) Nation study establish a baseline going forward?”

While representatives of FirstEnergy were unsure if studies had been done prior to construction of Kinzua Dam, they did note the studies presented would serve as a baseline going forward.

State Sen. Scott Hutchinson questioned how the studies were funded. FirstEnergy explained the studies were calculated on the merchant side of the company’s finances and therefore the cost was shouldered by shareholders and not rate payers.

Results of a dragonfly survey, which encompassed the pump storage project area and an area downriver to the Glade Bridge, found nymph and adult examples of a single species of gomphid, in addition to more common dragonflies.

A cultural resource survey covering 225 acres, only 60 acres of which was testable as the area is partially inundated, found a high potential for archeological sites, but identified none.

The cultural survey recommended systematic survey prior to any further ground disturbance at the site.

It was also noted the Kinzua Dam area did not qualify for national registry as a historic site.

An electrofishing survey at the site identified 8,321 fish of 55 different species in 12 sites along an eight-mile stretch of the Allegheny River over three dates. The study found a handful of rare, threatened or endangered species, including ten Ohio lamprey, two black bullhead, 18 gilt darters and river carpsuckers. The study identified no significant trends in the population of fish identified.

A desktop analysis of fish impingement and entrainment found the pump storage project entrains approximately 535,000 fish under eight inches, approximately 12,000 eight- to 15-inch fish and 15,000 fish over 16 inches annually. Projected mortality rates from being struck during entrapment showed a survival rate for the three groups of 86.8 percent, 64.6 percent and 47.7 percent, respectively. The overall survival rate averaged 71.2 percent. While these are large numbers, the analysis concluded that due to survival rates and the large number of fish in the Allegheny Reservoir, project operations do not greatly effect the overall fish population.

A mussel survey from the Kinzua Dam to Conewango Creek found a total of 13 species of mussel and no invasive or rare species. Historically, the Allegheny system hosted more than 50 species of mussels including seven potentially rare, threatened or endangered species. An increase in mussels was seen downriver from the dam. Spikes and muckets accounted for 92 percent of all mussels detected.

A summary of historical operations at the pumped storage station from 2002 through 2012 found an overall average water release of between 2,700 and 3,500 acre-feet per generation cycle. This average was calculated from 88,592 hourly observations and included between 300 and 400 acre-feet discharge into the Allegheny River on average and an average of approximately 2,500 acre-feet into the Allegheny Reservoir.

An engineering feasibility assessment for additional project improvements, including possible increases of generation capacity and increases in storage capacity showed mixed results.

The possibility of erecting a new powerhouse on the right bank of the project area is precluded by the Allegheny’s designation as a “wild and scenic” river. Meanwhile, utilizing Kinzua Dam’s deep sluice gates, increasing capacity within the existing project footprint and increasing upper reservoir capacity were all deemed to require further investigation. Upgrading equipment to increase output or capacity was deemed unfeasible, as, according to FirstEnergy, equipment has been regularly upgraded and maintained.

A water quality study sampled water in 14 locations across the upper and lower reservoir and the Allegheny River system looked at temperatures, dissolved oxygen, dissolved gas, pH, alkalinity and mineral content. Dissolved oxygen was found to be well above state standards, even at the Allegheny tailwaters near the dam, where aeration is higher due to dam discharge. Total dissolved gas measurements stayed slightly below EPA recommendations and was also higher near the dam. alkalinity was measured to be above state minimums year-round, while pH levels remained within state criteria, although pH was slightly higher at the reservoir in July. October through April found a near uniform temperature-by-depth, while the summer months found a warm surface level which cools with depth, a finding common in temperate climate reservoirs. Station discharge was not found to effect temperature.

Temperature results, according to FirstEnergy, will be used as part of the data set for an ongoing modeling study attempting to gauge effects of the pumped storage project as opposed to effects attributable to the dam and natural reservoir fluctuations.

An operations study found an average reservoir elevation fluctuation of approximately three inches from regular pumped storage project discharge of 3,000 acre-feet per daily cycle. At the project’s maximum pumping capacity of 6,400 acre-feet, the resulting fluctuation in elevation tops out at approximately six inches. Computer modeling found maximum possible project outputs would inundate an average of 1.4 additional feet per mile at an average summer pool operational elevation of 2,900 feet. Average project output would inundate, on average, less than one foot per mile. The study did not account for elevations significantly above or below 2,900 feet, as drought and flood mitigation actions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Kinzua Dam during those periods was found to have a great enough ecological effect to make fluctuations due to the pumped storage project negligible.

A study of the environmental effects of reservoir fluctuation caused by the pumped storage project found the greatest effect due to the pumped storage project on the reservoir occurred during summer pool, when reservoir elevations are more stable. The study found that reservoir elevation varies more than one foot 98 to 99 percent of the time regardless of project output, dwarfing average project effects of three inches. Annual gill net studies indicate the reservoir supports a large, diverse fishery despite constant elevation fluctuations. The study concluded the project effects cause no discernible ecological impacts due to erosion stabilization that has occurred over time, larger fluctuations cause by the Corps of Engineers, the reservoir’s inherent dynamic nature and other outside factors.