BELCHERTOWN – At 9:30 Thursday morning, a valve was opened at MassWildlife’s McLaughlin Hatchery and water from the depths of Quabbin Reservoir coursed through the raceways teeming with rainbow trout.
Moments later, pumps that for 47 years had drawn water from the Swift River to operate the hatchery, were silenced.
Mark S. Tisa, MassWildlife deputy director, said the 5,000-foot pipeline carrying water from the William A. Brutsch Water Treatment Facility below Winsor Dam ushered in a new era for the state’s largest trout production facility.
Nearly a decade in discussion, planning and engineering, the first phase of the $4.4 million pipeline project was completed on time and on budget, according to Fred Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
“At the groundbreaking in June, I promised the governor this phase would be completed in December, and we and Waterline got it done,” Mr. Laskey said.
The next phase of the project is construction of a hydropower turbine at the head of the pipeline that will produce 440,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, with an estimated value of $50,000.
Mr. Tisa acknowledged that the water coming directly from the depths of the reservoir will make a significant difference in MassWildlife’s ability to raise trout for the stocking program.
“Until today, water for the hatchery had to be pumped from the Swift River and that often created problems. In the winter, hatchery personnel had to chip ice from the intake racks; in the fall they had to clear away leaf litter from the intake,” he said.
Mr. Tisa added that the surface water in the Swift River downstream from the dam occasionally carried diseases detrimental to the trout, and often during summer months water from the Swift was too warm for optimum trout growth.
“McLaughlin is our largest trout production facility, annually producing 225,000 to 240,000 pounds of fish each year. Under the current system, that production was always in jeopardy, depending on conditions in the stream.
Mr. Tisa said that when the hatchery was built in the late 1960s, original plans called for water to come from Quabbin directly by pipeline.
“I’m guessing it was a cost issue and it never got done, substituted by the current system that’s always been tenuous,” the deputy director said.
He said the project will save MassWildlife some $70,000 annually in electricity costs in pumping water from the river.
According to Jack Buckley, MassWildlife director, inland recreational fishing each year generates $21 million in sales tax revenue for the general fund.
“This was a wise investment on the part of the commonwealth. There is a generator at the head of the pipeline that will generate electricity.”
Mr. Buckley said much of the credit for the project goes to Mr. Laskey, who he said had been a longtime friend of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
George Peterson, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, quipped that the improved flow and quality of water from Quabbin would add 2 inches to the length of the rainbow trout raised at the hatchery.
The project was funded by $2.2 million in state environmental bond funds; approximately $1 million from MWRA bonds, $700,000 from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Department of Energy Resources’ Leading by Example program, and $500,000 from the MassWildlife Inland Fish and Game Fund.
The pipeline originates at the Brutsch facility, which treats Quabbin water entering the Chicopee Valley Aqueduct, providing drinking water to Chicopee, Wilbraham and part of South Hadley.