April 15, 2012
Dear (Commissioner Martens) (Governor Cuomo) (Honorable Cesar Perales),
In response to a review of the DEIS, these comments are being submitted in opposition to the proposed desalination plan by United Water. My training is in ecology and I spend a considerable amount of my time working and doing education on and around the Hudson River. In my review of the project and the DEIS numerous concerns arose related to the ecological impacts. The majority of my comments are focused on Chapter 9 of the DEIS although there are other sections touched on such as Chapter 18. However I wanted to start by noting something that should be central to any decision made on this issue, that the Hudson River is a vital resource, an irreplaceable national treasure in the public trust. The state and citizens of New York have been working at great effort to recover and protect our river, reconnecting residents and attracting visitors to enjoy the river. Our recreational use of the river has skyrocketed in the past 50 years and tourism to the sections of New York that fall outside of New York City has steadily grown. Waterfront access for the public along the river has been a focus for reinvigorating small towns and villages that were once vibrant. We need to hold onto this focus in our decision making for Haverstraw’s waterfront.
DOS Designation for SCFWH: As noted by the DOS, Haverstraw Bay is designated as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat (SCFWH). This unique reach of the Hudson is where it widens to its widest footprint, allowing the brackish waters to slow and move into shallow edges. As is expected in shallow slow moving stretches of water there are marshes and wetlands that have formed, bordering the edges and adding to the overall productivity. This combination of physical characteristics does not appear anywhere else on the Hudson River and provides just the right setting to be highly productive biologically. In fact this reach of the river is well known as the nursery for many anadromous fish – fish that rely on it to complete their lifecycle.
The Department of State SCFWH ratings recognized the uniqueness of Haverstraw Bay, classifying it as irreplaceable, for its wide reach of features and its critical importance not only to the Hudson River but to commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the Atlantic Coastal that are dependent on it. In response to a request to expand on the sites considered outside the SCFWH (Scoping document question 19 page 30) United Water included this section of a more complete document from the DOS designation documents (DEIS 18B-3). It should be noted that since the time this document was drafted the Atlantic sturgeon has also been designated as federally endangered, placing them under increased protection.
“This brackish water portion of the river is highly productive and comprises a substantial part of the nursery area for striped bass, American shad, white perch, tomcod, and Atlantic sturgeon. Other anadromous species, including blueback herring and alewife, spawn in upstream freshwater areas but concentrate here before moving downriver in the fall. The bay is also a major nursery and feeding area for bay anchovy, Atlantic menhaden, and blue crab. Depending on the location of the salt front, a majority of the spawning and wintering populations of Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River may reside here. The endangered shortnose sturgeon also overwinters here. Large numbers of waterfowl use the area for feeding and resting during spring and fall migrations. As noted in the NYSDOS’s coastal fish and wildlife habitat rating form for the Haverstraw Bay SCFWH, “Despite various habitat disturbances, Haverstraw Bay possesses a combination of physical and biological characteristics that make it one of the most important fish and wildlife habitats in the Hudson River estuary.” (citation above)
This area of the river is a key part of the entire food web. It is rich in phytoplankton, detritus and macroinvertebrates, (all basic building blocks of the food web), young of the year or juvenile fish using it as a nursery area, foraging fish (anadromous fish) moving through and feeding in route, and those species that spend the majority of their life in the river. This shallow, and slow moving water provides a great opportunity for phytoplankton to thrive. The role of phytoplankton in this part of the river is important since zebra mussels have not established a strong foothold here due to the brackish conditions of the water. With the 85% decline of phytoplankton and 50% decline of zooplankton in the river north of Newburgh from zebra mussels, this section of the river becomes increasingly important and needs to be carefully protected. There is no other section of the river that is physically able to fulfill this role.
Systems Approach: Reviewing this partial list of the productive contributions of Haverstraw Bay, not only to the Hudson River ecosystem but also to the wider Atlantic Coast, immediately signals a need to step back and look at the bigger picture. This productive Bay is part of a much larger system, and in order to really look at impacts we need to use this wider systems type of thinking. The science community has shifted to a systems approach, this means looking at the wide range of relationships that are interconnected. We need to see the whole system, its varied parts and each of their roles within the framework to fully understand impacts.
The Hudson itself is a system, with Haverstraw Bay being a key nursery area within it, but it is only a part of an even larger system – that of the fisheries along the Atlantic Coast. Haverstraw Bay provides a unique and invaluable role in both the smaller and the bigger system.
Looking to the DEIS the discussion of assessed impacts focuses almost exclusively on the immediate area, and focuses heavily on the impact for just this facility. This is not the way to consider this project. Haverstraw Bay is not in isolation on the Hudson River, but positioned in an area that already has significant other impacts. In the area of the Bay there already exist Bowline to the South and Indian Point to the North. Both of these facilities are causing significant impacts, part of a much larger human footprint. We need to look at impacts cumulatively, with our focus at the system level.
Existing Impacts & the PISCES Report: To a healthy river this this would be just one more impact, but we are dealing with an ecosystem that is already in trouble. There are significant signs of trouble already documented. The NYS DEC has collected data on the fish in the river, and has matched this with data from the American Fisheries Management Council, and other oversight bodies for many years. The DEC has noted declining populations in many of our significant Hudson River fish.
Using the Annual Year Class Index, PISCES Conservation Ltd. released a report called “The status of fish populations & the ecology of the Hudson” (2008). This report highlighted the significant impacts being experienced by 13 key Hudson species, 10 of which are in decline, that is over 75% of the species studied. Even more concerning, because of the significant decline in its numbers, the American shad is no longer allowed to be fished in the Hudson. (Status of American Shad in the Hudson River, New York, Updated Report August 2009, Hattala, K. and Kahnle, A., Hudson River Fisheries Unit, Bureau of Marine Resources New York Department of Environmental Conservation). American shad were the oldest commercial fishery on the Hudson, and one of few left unhampered by the human impacts of PCB contamination. This is one more piece of our Hudson Fisheries history that is now closed. The American juvenile shad needs a productive habitat and relies on Haverstraw Bay for a considerable portion of its nursery stage. Section 9A-31 notes the current declined condition of the shad, but goes on to conclude that the proposed desalination plant would have no impact on this species or its recovery. This is not consistent with “Hudson River American Shad: An Ecosystem-Based Plan for Recovery, Status Report- 4 January 2010” posted on the NYSDEC website. This plan calls for reducing mortality from intakes on the river, yet here we are considering adding new intakes which would increase not reduce the problem. As we watch a fishery collapse it is incomprehensible that further losses of the larvae and juvenile would not be part of the impact of this project.
Two other herring in the PISCES study, Alewife and Blueback, are also in serious decline in the river and because of this have been selected by the DEC for focus in citizen monitoring as they move in to spawn. All three Herring are known to be sensitive to impingement – their skins are easily damaged and so they have a low to negligible survival rate following impingement. Impingement is an assessed impact of the proposed plant.
Of the 13 fish studied all but one, Weakfish, uses Haverstraw Bay extensively as part of their lifecycle. Five, Atlantic Tomcod (another fish in serious decline), Striped Bass, American Shad, White Perch, and Bay Anchovy, use the bay as a substantial part of their nursery area. This is a critical time in the development of these species and all but the striped bass are showing declining numbers. In 2011 in Haverstraw Bay we netted juvenile Atlantic Tomcod. Again, this is a species that has recently shown significant reduction in stock and they are clearly still using this area as a nursery.
It is important to note how fragile our system is currently. We know that it is suffering serious impacts, yet on the one hand we close fisheries and on the other we consider large-scale projects in a known nursery section of the river where the stock is fragile and we know the project will have impacts on larvae and young of the year fish. No matter what the ‘conclusions’ of the small short-term studies cited in the DEIS we cannot afford to be ignorant in moving forward. There will be losses experienced with the proposed project. We cannot afford those losses.
Sturgeon – Not included in the PISCES report are several other species of concern – two that are currently endangered and use this area of the river extensively. Both the Atlantic and Shortnose sturgeon are found in the bay. Both have long lives, do not spawn annually and are later maturing than most fish making them especially susceptible to impacts. It can take decades to rebuild their stock once it becomes threatened.
There are fewer than 1000 spawning stock of Atlantic Sturgeon in the Hudson. Atlantic sturgeon actively use this area of the river as a nursery, the young can remain in the river for as long as 6 years before migrating out. I can validate the juvenile’s existence in this part of the river as this past summer we netted a juvenile sturgeon ~ 12 cm long right at the top of the bay. I held this juvenile in my hand before returning it to the Bay for further development.
Besides my personal anecdote the DEC fisheries unit together with the US Fish and Wildlife and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission published on this in 2007 (Atlantic Sturgeon Habitat Use in Newburgh and Haverstraw Bays of the Hudson River: Implications for Population Monitoring 2007, Sweka et al. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 27:1058–1067, 2007). Over the 3 years of sampling included in the study they netted 562 juvenile Atlantic sturgeon – 90 percent of them right in Haverstraw Bay. They found them in all substrates in the bay. They prefer soft/deep bottom material but some of their largest single net catches came from hard bottoms and shallow depths – in short they were netted in hard, soft, deep, and shallow water as they move throughout the bay. This is an endangered species and we are considering a project that will most certainly impact their nursery and overwintering area.
The juvenile shortnose sturgeon are also known to occupy the broad region of the Hudson River near Haverstraw (Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons of the Hudson River: common and divergent life history attributes, Bain, M., Environmental Biology of Fishes 48: 347-358, 1997.)
Entrainment: Entrainment is a strong concern in this nursery stretch of the river with the expected loss of fish eggs, larvae and young of year through pulling them into and through the proposed water system. In this type of system it will be an expected 100% mortality.
The project proponent reduced the intake slot size to .5 mm, but there will still be impacts in this fragile nursery area. The DEIS notes that in fish biology there are expected egg and larvae loss numbers. Yes in nature there are expected losses – but the losses incurred in the proposed desalination project would be on top of normal expected loss. There nothing in the natural cycle that would account for a desalination plant – this is an added loss and must be considered this way, not as just incidental.
In addition to the number of losses cited there are other entrainment concerns. The time of year the DEIS notes the plant would have highest water withdrawal coincides with the period of highest fish egg and larval densities in the river. This means there will be the largest impact on fish kill. The DEIS notes meroplankton, (fish eggs, larval fish and macroinvertebrates), can dominate the plankton assemblage of Haverstraw Bay during the summer, with densities as high as 1,000–400,000 per cubic meter (USFWS 1997). This rich assemblage will be in the river during the peak withdrawal periods and with their small size will be prime targets for entrainment.
There is mention in the DEIS of species moving away from the intake suction but the species that are of major concern are planktonic and thus not motile. They would be unable to respond to an intake line of their own. As noted earlier in this response, with the decline of the zooplankton and phytoplankton in the upper river (from zebra mussels) the phytoplankton in this section of the river takes on an increased importance.
Slot size: United Water has proposed a 0.5 mm slot size on the intake lines. While a slot size this small shows a decrease in the number of fish eggs and larvae entrained and killed it is important to consider how this small slot size will hold up with the larger volume water withdrawal in a river well known for its turbidity. If the 0.5 mm slot size is found to be a problem repairs will be involved which will be intrusive, and ultimately a larger size mesh size might be determined to be essential for operations. This would increase the negative impacts from the project in this nursery section of the river.
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV): SAV are known to support dense and diverse macroinvertebrate communities in the river and for that reason are attractive to juvenile fish for feeding (Ecology of Hudson River Submerged Aquatic Vegetation, Final Report to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Findlay, S., Strayer, D., Bain, M., Nieder, W. C., NYS DEC, 2006). While this project does not appear to remove any SAV beds, there is a bed of SAV directly inland from the intake structure. This proximity to the beds is concerning for young of the year fish moving into and out of the beds for feeding.
This is not reuse of an existing damaged section of the river: The project proponent in the DEIS project narrative notes that the intake line would be installed in a site that was previously disturbed. While this section of river was once an industrial zone, the disturbances to the river bottom are long ago buried. Any new work that is considered for this area will be new damage to the river. This is damage to an area that is home to two bottom dwelling endangered species. Installing a coffer dam, and all the associated construction impacts from this project will all affect these species.
Salinity & toxicity discharge: The discharge from the reverse osmosis project that is fed through the waste water treatment plant has been designed from a circulation model. No actual physical assessment has been done to test the model through installing instruments in the river to assess the actual circulation patterns. Putting things into the river does not wash them away. The tidal nature of the river brings things back & forth and holding them in an area. This is especially true in the dry summer months when the flushing mechanism from the freshwater in the upper reaches of the river slows down. Haverstraw Bay is a slow moving section of the river because of its width, which means that materials added to the water in this area have the potential to remain. This can allow plant discharges to linger and build in this slower moving section of the river. Models should be supported with actual testing deploying some ADCPs (Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers), especially with this being a sensitive region of the river. Depending on the salinity of the return water it will enter as a plume at the pipe end. The DEIS notes that the discharge could add an additional 4-6 psu to the surrounding water, but with no validation of the model and potential impacts it is hard to assess how this might affect the outflow area of the river.
Marshes & Wetlands: A complex of tidal marshes, Minisceongo Creek and Cedar Pond Brook are all bordering the proposed project area and will be directly impacted by it. Three have been mapped by DEC, two as Class II tidal wetland and one as a Class I wetland. The raw water transmission line will cross under these wetlands bringing the potential for leaks, breaks, future repairs. The marshes and shorelines are key contributors to the biologic importance of the bay. The marshes provide sheltering opportunities for young of the year fish as do the mouth regions of tributaries. Haverstraw Bay is key for young glass American eel accessing the Minisceongo Creek, and this is expected to be true of Cedar Pond Brook as well. Due to drastically declining numbers, American eel is currently being considered for a species of concern designation. The NYS DEC currently has a monitoring program for young glass eels, and the tributaries connected to Haverstraw Bay show a consistent presence of eel even when up river tributaries suffer from declining numbers due to rain events. Unimpeded access to these tributaries is important to the protection of the young eels.
The marsh itself is used by a wide array of raptors. In a few weeks time this spring we noted a large assemblage including the Endangered bald eagle, red shouldered hawk, red tailed hawk, coopers hawk and rough-legged hawk. The proponent notes that construction under the marshes will be done with staging areas in currently disturbed areas the marshes however these raptors will not tolerate the disturbance. In addition to the raptors, Hudson River shorelines and marshes are one of the most important locations for New York State rare plants. Changes in flow patterns, unexpected disturbances from improper monitoring of silt fences and debris containment, leaking pipes, any number of construction and post construction items can cause significant impacts to plant communities and fish and wildlife.
Attached to these comments is a copy of a report provided by Erik Kiviat, PhD from Hudsonia Limited on the impacts on the marshes and waterfront (Biodiversity of Haverstraw Bay and the North Rockkland Waterfront and Potential Impacts of the Proposed Desalination Plant, Erik Kiviat, 2012). This report highlights in more detail the numerous concerns with the marsh and wetland impacts and the vital role they play in the overall ecology of the coastal waterfront.
Shifting Paradigm: I end by noting that we have been shifting the paradigm away from turning to large corporations who offer as proposed ‘solutions’ large energy intensive plants; who attempt to solve our challenges, but in the end by using the same type of thinking that brought us to where we currently are, adds more problems in the future. Our new paradigm focuses towards partnerships between residents, who need to recognize their role in solving the problem, our elected representatives in government who need to guide the way in setting new structures for change, and our businesses/corporations who need to embrace the public as a partner in moving forward. This is the model the DEC Hudson River Estuary Action Plan has been presenting in their Action Plan, and that our Governor has proposed through his Regional Councils focus on community based initiatives.
Based on all of the above concerns and impacts permission to proceed with this project should not be granted.
c.c. Frank Sparaco SparacoF@co.rockland.ny.us
Alex Gromack firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Day email@example.com