Save the Shad - A Letter from Our Founder

"What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." - Jane Goodall


The energy in the air is palpable. People aren’t wearing masks. Restaurants are full on Tuesday nights. Spring is in the air. Despite the horrors of war in the Ukraine and the challenges facing our battered economy here in Western Mass, it feels like we could be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope this is a magical spring that we ALL deserve.

For us, spring means getting back on the river. Following the runoff, the waters clear, begin to warm and we can paddle on the Great River. Sometime in May we start seeing the migrating fish. I still remember the excitement spotting my first school of shad when my family began paddling on the Connecticut River. We saw hundreds, maybe thousands, returning to their spawning grounds.

On average nearly 350,000 shad climb the ladder at the Holyoke Dam every year and continue their migration upstream past Sunderland. As we paddle, we see many anglers fishing for shad, a fish that has fed the peoples of these lands for thousands of years. The bald eagles also eat very well during the migration. So important are these migratory fish that they are protected by an 1874 Supreme Court ruling providing them a right of way on the Connecticut River.

Sadly, the future of the shad, and other endangered migratory species, is under threat. Their future is threatened by a foreign owned power company seeking to renew its “License to Kill.” Just upstream from the Turners Falls Dam is the Northfield Mountain pump station. Every day, with four gigantic pumps, they extract over 15,000 cubic feet per second to fill a 5-billion-gallon pond on top of Northfield Mountain. (By comparison, the average flow of the entire river under the Sunderland bridge in summer months is less than 10,000 cfs.) This tremendous suction reverses the flow of the river while vacuuming up and exterminating small organisms passing by, including an estimated 15 million shad larvae every year. Later the water is dumped back into the river as “clean” hydro energy causing ongoing erosion and silt buildup in the five-mile stretch to Turners Falls. The reversible pumps consume 30% more carbon fueled power than the hydro power they generate, a net loss to the grid. Peak loads have been managed in the past, without the pump station, when Northfield Mountain was shut down for six months after dumping billions of gallons of mud into the river during a spring cleaning of their mountain top pond.

FirstLight power company, owner of Northfield Mountain pump station and the Turners Falls dam, is in the final stage of renewing a 50-year license to continue operating this outdated monster. If approved, they will continue to operate the most ecologically damaging machine on the entire 406-mile stretch of the Connecticut River.

The Connecticut River is one of our greatest ecological assets in Western Mass. Let’s reclaim the Great River for the wildlife and for our community to enjoy. You can help do this by registering your public comment with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and insist that the Northfield Mountain pump station license is not renewed. Here’s how:

Go to:; then to “Documents and Filings”; then click on the “Quick Links” tab for FERC Online on the right; and then to “eComment” on the page that opens. Follow directions for “Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings (P – Project Number),” and BE SURE TO use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

Thank you for your shared care and concern for our Great River.

My best,


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