Kinneytown Dam/Restoring the Naugatuck River

Location: Seymour, Connecticut | Status: Active

Summary: The Kinneytown Dam, owned by Hydroland Corporation, is the last remaining barrier to migratory fish on the Naugatuck River, blocking access to over 32 river miles of spawning habitat. Currently, fish are unable to pass the dam due to over two decades of noncompliance with the hydropower facility’s licensing exemption conditions. The fish ladder is ineffective because it was not constructed as designed, it was not designed to best standards for the target species, the design and operations result in spillage and false attraction, the facilities have been poorly maintained, and the current and past owners have neglected to implement any engineering or operational approaches to address these shortcomings. Through our efforts with coalition partners Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and Naugatuck River Revival Group, we have generated significant momentum through Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceedings (FERC) towards restoring fish passage at Kinneytown, and in turn restoring the historic fish runs of the Naugatuck River.  We have initiated a legal proceeding before FERC, contributed extensive on-the-ground observations documenting the problem, and provided a technical analysis of the issues resulting in failed fish passage, not to mention the significant public support that has been generated. With this momentum and our continued dedication to this project, we expect that we will soon see fish freely pass upstream along the Naugatuck.

Like many Connecticut rivers, the Naugatuck River historically supported runs of diadromous fish. Unfortunately dam construction from the mid-1700s to the mid-1900s disrupted or eliminated these runs, while riverside development, sewage, and manufacturing discharges further reduced water quality. By the 1950s, surveys revealed very little life left in the river. But in the latter 20th century a tremendous effort was initiated to clean up the river; brownfield leachate was collected and treated, millions spent on sewage treatment plant upgrades, industrial discharges regulated and five major dams along the main stem of the river were removed.  The Kinneytown Dam is the sole remaining barrier to restoring fish runs all the way from Long Island Sound to Thomaston. If the Kinneytown Dam were no longer an impediment to migratory fish they would have access to 32 miles of the Naugatuck River—as well as 8 miles of its tributaries—which include significant spawning and rearing habitat. DEEP has estimated that the Naugatuck could support a run of 20,000 shad and a 30,000 river herring from Kinneytown to Thomaston.

The Kinneytown Dam is currently in violation of its FERC license exemption by not providing adequate fish passage. When Kinneytown Dam became a hydropower dam in 1983, it was granted a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) exemption, essentially a perpetual license exempted from renewal. As a condition of that exemption, the dam operators are required to 1) operate both of their power stations, 2) provide safe, timely, and effective fish passage upstream and downstream, 3) provide minimum stream flow, and 4) maintain dam safety. We believe they are out of compliance with many or all of these requirements. Save the Sound’s Legal Team, Ecological Restoration Team, and Soundkeeper Bill Lucey are working together with nonprofit and municipal partners to ensure that FERC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and CT DEEP strictly enforce the conditions of Kinneytown’s exemption and restore fish passage on the Naugatuck River.

Our coalition has undertaken a multi-pronged advocacy approach to support the restoration of the Naugatuck River fish runs, including:

The Kinneytown Dam, owned by Hydroland Corporation, has blocked migratory fish passage on the Naugatuck River for long enough. Today the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG), comprised of the 19 municipalities surrounding the Naugatuck River, along with environmental organizations Save the Sound and Naugatuck River Revival Group (NRRG), have jointly taken legal action at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), aimed at restoring the once thriving sea-run fisheries of the Naugatuck River. The legal filing by NVCOG, Save the Sound, and NRRG asks FERC to revoke Hydroland’s operating license exemption.

The complaint requests the revocation of the exemption, based on material alterations to the project, triggering new exemption proceedings and allowing for re-prescription by the resource agencies. This will allow for the clarification of legal obligations and the incorporation of modern fish passage structure design and performance standards into the exemption itself. Re-prescription allows for the clearest pathway for implementing the entire scope of actions necessary to ensure fish passage that will support restoration of the Naugatuck River fish runs. This provides a procedure for the implementation of the technical recommendations of FWS.

Latest Steps:

Next Step: FERC will respond to complaint by issuing an order on the merits based upon the pleadings; assigning the case to be resolved through alternative dispute resolution procedures, or establishing a hearing. Our team will fully participate in any upcoming proceedings.

Further Reading:

Action Opportunities:

Last Updated: November 08, 2021

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