Wednesday, July 5, 2017

More Dam News from the Chesapeake

For nearly seven years since the cleanup started, the federal government and six states in the bay’s watershed have reduced municipal sewer overflows that pour nitrogen and phosphorus into rivers that feed into the bay, and cut the fertilizers and other nutrients that run off from hundreds of farms. They also counted on the Conowingo Dam to block massive amounts of sediment in the Susquehanna River from smothering bay grasses that nurture marine life.

But that part of the plan has gone very wrong.

According to a report being prepared by scientists who work for the Environmental Protection Agency program that manages the bay cleanup, the reservoir behind the hydroelectric dam, which sits at the top of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, near the Pennsylvania border, has filled with sediment far sooner than the agency had predicted.

Using technology that didn’t exist when the original calculation was made, the scientists said they have determined that the original estimate of when the reservoir would fill was off by more than 15 years. Rather than reaching capacity in 2030 to 2035, it is already 95 percent full and could cease protecting the bay from sediment within the next three years. As Johns Hopkins University professor William P. Ball said, “It’s like the dam is not even there.”
This story seems pretty wrong to me. First, the "cleanup" of the Bay has been going on a lot longer than 7 years. It's been in progress (with more or less, mostly less, results) since we arrived in 1985. The new pact 7 years ago was only one of several agreements.

I also distinctly remember the head of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program back then tell scientists assembled at a conference that in his opinion, the filling of Conowingo Dam was the greatest challenge facing the Bay, because in 30 years it would be full, and the sediment that it trapped would start to spill into the Bay again. That would appear to be right on schedule.

As I've noted repeatedly in the past, proponents of  the Chesapeake Bay should thank the industry that made the dam that protected the Bay for almost 100 years, instead of trying to hold it responsible for failing on their watch. The current anti-industrial regulatory environment will make it nearly impossible to repeat that stroke of luck.

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