East Outlet Dam Operating License

November 2014

Now that the dust has settled and we have some time on our hands we thought we should post a few very informational pieces you might find interesting.
To begin with we constantly explain to customers why the water flows on he East Outlet are where they are. It’s always the topic of conservation in the shop and around the river.
To begin with every dam has a federally issued operating license in place. They usually have a 40 year duration. When they come up for renewal it takes a number of years to do studies about every aspect of water flows, user groups, and aquatic life. The process gets very complicated. We have been involved in 3 different dam advisory committees during their relicense process.
Power producing dams operate on a schedule of ramping up water everyday to produce power during peak daytime demands for energy. The amount of ramping everyday depends primarily on demand and wholesale price of power plus the amount of water entering the watershed, that at certain times of the season can cause flood stage conditions.
The East Outlet does not produce power so operates under a different set of rules that often have nothing to do with power needs downstream.
Our fisheries department did a fabulous job of explaining how the East Outlet and other dam licenses can effect flows throughout the year. Again it can be complicated but the license addresses levels at certain times of the season that are needed to benefit fish reproduction.
Below we have posted the report from our fisheries biologists. If you read it throughly you should be able to understand how the system works. There are reasons why changes in flows may have nothing to do with power.

Moosehead Lake Fishing Report – October 2014

“I’ve never seen the lake so low!” and “I’ve never seen the lake so high!” are two statements we hear a lot in the Regional IFW office. Anglers and lake residents are keenly aware of the changes in lake elevations since it impacts their ability to access the water, maintain their docks, and in general, impacts the aesthetics of the area. Hydropower operators on our larger impoundments like Moosehead Lake, Brassua Lake, and Indian Pond have obtained a federal license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and water quality certification from the State of Maine (DEP) to operate the dams. Their licenses include required minimum flows in the outlets and a range of operating flows during certain periods of the year. Lake elevation targets are also part of the agreements. The goal of a license is to balance the need for power generation with protection of the aquatic resources, providing recreational opportunities, and public safety (flood control). State and Federal agencies, as well as other interested groups are all part of the lengthy process to develop a hydropower license. Wilson Pond has a very small-capacity dam and they are not required to have a license but we have worked cooperatively with the past and present dam owners to develop an operating plan that protects the resources.

In general, there are a few goals we have as fisheries biologists regarding water level management. The first and most important goal is to protect the fish species and aquatic community. This is much different than “enhancing” the fisheries which we try to maximize as well. We must first ensure all life stages are protected, including spawning. Wild salmon and brook trout spawn in the streams and rivers in the fall. Their eggs are buried in the gravel and must survive over the winter until hatching in spring. Therefore, we typically require an attraction flow in September and early October to draw the fish into the rivers. A lower flow is required during the spawning to keep fish in the middle of the channel so when March rolls around and flows are typically at their lowest, the eggs remain submerged. A minimum flow that keeps the river channel wetted and provides nursery habitat is required in the winter. For waters like Moosehead Lake and Wilson Pond, we also request dam operators to draw the lake down in October to protect lake trout spawning. Lake trout spawn in the lake in mid to late October on wind swept shoals or shoreline containing large rocky substrate. Lake trout simply broadcast their eggs among the rocks in 4 to 5 feet of water. The eggs overwinter and hatch in early spring. So, it is optimal to have the lake elevation very low while spawning is occurring, then the lake can refill later in the fall. As long as the dam operator does not drop the lake more than 3 to 4 feet from the late fall lake elevation, the lake trout eggs will be protected.

So, when you see the exposed shoreline of a lake this time of year, it is because the dam operators are required to lower the lake as part of their license or agreement and it is for the benefit of the fisheries resources. It also provides for flood protection in the case of heavy fall rain and spring run-off. It is also a great opportunity for residents to inspect and repair their docks.