LIHI Certificate #111 - Methuen Falls Project, Massachusetts

The Methuen Falls Project is located on the Spicket River in the City of Methuen, Essex County, Massachusetts. The Spicket River is a tributary to the Merrimack River, part of the Gulf of Maine watershed. It begins at the outlet of Island Pond in Derry, New Hampshire, and flows south into Salem, passing through the Arlington Mill Reservoir. The river continues through Salem, and enters the city of Methuen, Massachusetts, where it drops nearly 100 feet over a series of dams on its way to the Merrimack River in Lawrence. The powerhouse is located in the Methuen Company Spinning Mill #5, a c. 1840 structure that has been historically restored. The project is owned by Olson Electric Development Company Incorporated.

Methuen Falls is the second of five existing dams on the river. The first and most immediate upstream is Wheeler Dam located approximately 7 miles to the north at the outlet of Arlington Mill Reservoir in Salem, New Hampshire. The third, and most immediate downstream, is Harvey’s Falls Dam located approximately ½ mile to the south.

The project includes the Methuen Falls dam, overflow spillway, flood gates, intake with aluminum head gate, powerhouse, penstocks, and two turbines and associated generators.

Methuen Falls dam, which was originally constructed in 1880 to 1890, is a gravity dam made of cut granite built on a bedrock foundation. The downstream face is vertical dry-stone masonry laid on a running bond pattern. Its maximum height above the riverbed is twenty feet with three feet of plywood flashboards on the crest.

The overflow spillway consists of three sections separated by two large masonry piers and has a total length of 130 feet. There are two fully automated flood gates located on the southern pier. The project intake is located on the northern side of the dam and consists of a formed concrete box protected by 16-foot-wide by 10-foot-deep galvanized trashracks.

Project Name Methuen Falls
LIHI Certificate No. 111
LIHI Certificate Term August 8, 2018 - August 7, 2023
Owner Olson Electric Development Company, Inc.
State Massachusetts
Location Located  at river mile 3 on the Spicket River in the City of Methuen, Essex County, Massachusetts.
Installed Capacity 0.357 MW
Average Annual Generation 1,000 MWh
Facility Type Run-of-river
FERC No. P-8093 issued 1986, expires 2026

The intake is sealed by a 10-foot-wide by 10-foot-deep fully automated aluminum head gate. Water is conveyed to the powerhouse via a 150-foot-long, 7-foot-high by 10-foot-wide granite topped brick channel that transitions into a 4-foot diameter steel penstock at a ninety-degree angle. The penstock transfers water into a 7-foot-high by 20-foot square concrete pressure case which houses Unit #1. A 3-foot-long, 3-foot diameter steel penstock supplies water from the concrete pressure case to a 6-foot-high by 6-foot square steel pressure case that houses Unit #2. Each pressure case passes water to the tailrace via conical draft tubes. Total project capacity is 0.357 MW.

The project operates in a true run-of-river mode and impounds an 8.7-acre reservoir. The project discharges a continuous minimum flow of 16 cfs through the 530-foot-long bypass reach. The flow regime plan was developed in consultation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDFW).

Waters within the project reach are designated as Class B and listed as Category 5 (requiring a TMDL) due to its impairment of E. coli, pathogens, and fecal coliform. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) has confirmed that the project is not responsible for or contributing to these impairments.

Downstream barriers prevent passage up the Spicket River. The river primarily supports warmwater fish communities. American eel stocks have been historically declining in the river but the USFWS has noted that the species has been observed passing the project despite no formal passage facilities. Trashracks with ¾-inch spacing are installed to mitigate fish entrainment during downstream passage.

The project property is less than one acre and strictly used for power generation. No lands of significant ecological value exist in the project property as surrounding lands are zoned industrial.

Threatened and endangered species potentially present in the project vicinity include bald eagle, Northern long-eared bat, blue-spotted salamander, Blanding's turtle, wood turtle, Andrews' bottle gentian, cobra clubtail, small whorled pogonia, alternate-flowered water-milfoil, and umber shadowdragon. Consultation with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and USFWS has confirmed that critical habitats for the listed species are not present in the project property. Project operations do not impact these species.

The project is located within the Spicket Falls Historic District. The Historic District is part of the Methuen Multiple Resource Area which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Methuen Company Spinning Mill #5, which houses the powerhouse, has been preserved and restored in accordance with Historic District guidelines. The c. 1840 structure contains 6,000 square feet of finished interior space. The project owner received a Preservation Award from the Methuen Historical Society for its restoration/preservation work. The project operates under a cultural resources management plan that ensures communication with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and requires consultation with the SHPO before undertaking any construction activities.

No formal recreation facilities exist at the project due to the small footprint and safety concerns. A footbridge provides public access and non-project recreation facilities are located nearby.


Certification History

August 8, 2019: The decision to recertify the Methuen Falls Hydroelectric Project is final. No appeals were received during the appeal period which closed on July 18, 2019. The new certification term for the Project is from August 8, 2018 through August 7, 2023.

June 18, 2019: The Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI) has preliminarily approved Low Impact Recertification for the Methuen Falls Hydroelectric Project. The Certification includes two conditions:

  • Condition 1:  The Facility Owner shall continue to voluntarily provide a minimum flow of 16 cfs into the bypassed reach.
  • Condition 2: Due to the potential for American eel presence in the Project area, the Facility Owner shall report whether US Fish and Wildlife Service and/or Massachusetts Department of Fish and Wildlife has requested fish passage facilities in annual compliance submittals to LIHI.  If fish passage is required during the LIHI Certification term, the Owner shall provide annual updates on passage design, installation and acceptance by the resource agencies in annual compliance submittals to LIHI.

This decision is preliminary pending the 30-day appeal window. Only those who commented on the initial application during the 60-day comment period are eligible to file an appeal. Such appeal needs to include an explanation as to how the Project does not meet the LIHI criteria. Appeal requests can be submitted by email to comments@lowimpacthydro.org with “Methuen Falls Hydroelectric Project” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Ave, Suite 6, Lexington, MA 02420. All requests will be posted to the website.  The applicant will have an opportunity to respond and any response will also be posted. Requests must be received by 5 pm Eastern time on July 18, 2019.  The full application and reviewers report are available below.

If no appeal requests are received and the decision becomes final, the Certification term for the Project will be August 8, 2018 for a five (5) year term which will expire on August 7, 2023.

March 26, 2019: The Low Impact Hydropower Institute has received a complete application for Low Impact Recertification of the Methuen Falls Hydroelectric Project.  LIHI is seeking public comment on this application.  Specifically, we are interested in knowing whether you think the Project meets the LIHI Low Impact Certification Criteria, as revised in the 2nd Edition Handbook.  Please review the program and criteria in LIHI’s revised Handbookand then review the Project’s application materials below.

Comments that are directly tied to specific LIHI criteria (flows, water quality, fish passage, etc.) will be most helpful, but all comments will be considered.  Comments may be submitted to the Institute by e-mail at comments@lowimpacthydro.org with “Methuen Falls Project Comments” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 6, Lexington, MA 02420.  Comments must be received on or before 5 pm Eastern time on May 25, 2019 to be considered.  All comments will be posted to the web site and the applicant will have an opportunity to respond.  Any response will also be posted.

December 11, 2013: The Methuen Falls Hydroelectric project has been certified as low impact for a five year term, effective August 8, 2013 and expiring August 8, 2018, with the following conditions:

  • Condition satisfied 2013. Condition 1: Effective immediately upon receipt of this grant of certification, Olson shall increase the minimum bypass flow to 16 cfs, or instantaneous inflow if less.
  • Condition satisfied 2014. Condition 2: Within 90 days of LIHI’s grant of certification, Olson shall develop a flow monitoring and record keeping plan in consultation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service “USFWS”) and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (“MassWildlife”) and file the plan with LIHI. The plan shall include the information on the mechanism for maintaining the bypass minimum flow (noting that at least 3 cfs should be provided as full-crest spillage for consistency with the license). Before filing the plan with LIHI, Olson shall seek written approval from the agencies and include any written responses to LIHI at the same time the plan is filed.
  • Condition 3: Upon notification by the USFWS that a final determination has been made that fish passage is required for American eel at Methuen Falls dam, Olson shall immediately start work to establish a cooperative Agreement with USFWS and MassWildlife to implement and provide such eel passage, including both permanent and interim measures that are requested by these agencies.  Olson shall notify LIHI within 30 days of this notification on the eel passage requirement, and the Agreement shall be in place within 90 days of such notification.  The interim measures that are identified in the Agreement shall be put in place within 120 days of the notification, and permanent eel passage measures shall be in place no later than two years after notification of the requirement.  Two weeks after the eel passage Agreement is in place, Olson shall provide a report to LIHI describing the planned passage and protection measures and the implementation schedule for design, installation, and operations, along with a copy of the Agreement.  Progress and any monitoring data collected shall be reported to LIHI in Olson’s annual compliance letter.

October 8, 2013: Public comment period on application has closed.

August 8, 2013: Olson Electric Development Co., Inc. has submitted an application for certification of the Methuen Falls project; application was posted to website and the public comment period was opened.