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How the Valley Works @ Holyoke Gas & Electric Hydropower Dam

Recently, we visited the Holyoke Gas & Electric electricity-generating Hydropower Dam, and were given an amazing in-depth tour by Richard Murray, a very talented engineer who is charged with the duty of ensuring that as many anadromous fish make it upstream as possible.* This is a big job, and carries with it a profound responsibility; the EPA defines the Connecticut RIver as “impaired” upstream of the dam which signifies the extent to which the dam impacts the ecology of the river—the dam is where the blue and red line meet. (While you”re in the enviromapper, take some time to view your local watercourses to see what they are listed.) Click here to get an idea of how long the survival of the CT river”s anadromous fish has been a hot button economic/environmental issue—this book, written by a grandson of Jonathan Edwards was published in 1829!

I am keenly interested in the renaissance of Holyoke, as I”m sure every inhabitant of the central Connecticut River Valley is. The better Holyoke does, the better off we all will be. Presently its unemployment rate is about 11% down from 13% this January. (That”s about 2x Northampton”s unemployment rate.)

What fascinates us (here adding my Northstar students) is that Holyoke”s renaissance is happening because of the Connecticut River. In few other places in the US can the link between environment and economy be seen so obviously as here, where hydropower is fueling the recent decision to develop the high-tech R&D hub called the “Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center.” “Partners in the project,” reports the Republican, “are the University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, the state, Cisco Systems Inc., a computer networking company based in California, and EMC Corp., of Hopkinton, an information storage, backup and recovery firm.” The center will be sited where the old Mastex Industries building now stands, on Canal #1 (the highest in altitude of three canals).

Heads up, young and/or bold entrepreneurs: there are still a lot of empty, unloved industrial buildings between canals 2 & 3 just waiting to be revivified: lots of unclaimed loft spaces within a quick jog or stroller push to the CT River downstream from the Holyoke Hydro Dam. That causes a major traffic jam for anadromous fish, which means that it”s a hotspot for fish and birds. So postmod.

Becoming energy self-sufficient means ending energy imports from elsewhere. The Holyoke hydro-dam, and those above it, give us energy self-sufficiency, and they don”t heat the water, pollute the air or create nuclear waste. Those are major pluses.

Accepting them means accepting the deaths of untold anadromous fish. How can we bear the responsibility of healing our damage upon creatures who have lived here for eons? Let”s begin by not ignoring the damage. Let us begin by appreciating the effort Holyoke, HG&E, the Connecticut River Watershed Council and others are doing to keep the fish species alive. (I”ll write more about this effort in coming months.)

Let”s begin, during this cold and dark season when we celebrate our families, friends and neighbors, to extend our sense of family to the most recent sons and daughters of creatures who call the middle Connecticut River home. Let us become more aware and more responsible for the way that we are living, use less energy, and lesson our environmental impact.

I say use less energy, for that seems like the most obvious solution to lessen our environmental impact, but we here in Western Massachusetts are going in the opposite direction:

Peak demand for electricity has doubled since 1980, Northeast Utilities says. Demand is expected to increase in Connecticut an average of nearly 1 percent a year from 2008 to 2018. In western Massachusetts, the average annual increase is projected to be 1.3 percent.

As usual, much to think about & even moreto do—

My thanks to Richard Murray and his supervisors and colleagues at HG&E who made our visit so interesting, to my students, and to Ken and Catherine at Northstar who made How the Valley Works a reality!

*Sorry! I”ve been in hiding, writing Paradise City: A Short Biocultural History of Northampton, Massachusetts 1736-1850. Just finished the 1st formal rough draft of “Thomas Cole“s American Arcadia” which brings me up to 1836. I”m getting there!! Next up, “Industrial Utopianism: The .” Whooo!

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