Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is stepping up his efforts to solve a longtime Bay pollution problem caused by the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River.Wrong! The dam was never meant to catch sediments and nutrients. They weren't even likely thought of, except as nuisance that would eventually fill up the pool behind the dam, when it was built from 1926-1928. It was primarily for the production of electrical power, although it use for flood control was certainly considered to be a side benefit. At that point, the idea of sediment and nutrient pollution was not at all on the radar.
The dam has a reservoir that is meant to catch sediment and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, which wash down from New York and Pennsylvania and pollute the Bay. But a study by the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment shows that reservoir is essentially at capacity, and can no longer stop the pollution that is flowing right into the Susquehanna and the Bay.
The study also found that without addressing this problem, the states can't meet the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay restoration goals required by 2025.It's a big pile of sediment, and it's going to be very expensive and difficult to find a place to dump the dredged sediment. That doesn't mean it's not the right answer, though. When the sediment of the Hudson River was found to be badly contaminated with PCBs plans were made to dredge 2.4 million cubic yards of material and transport it to Texas for disposal paid for by GE, who produced the PCBs. The work is currently proceeding.
At the state's first-ever Conowingo Dam Summit in early July, Governor Hogan formed a work group to seek solutions. The group includes members from the Maryland Departments of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Planning; the Port Authority; the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; the U.S. Geological Survey; the Army Corps of Engineers; the Susquehanna River Basin Commission; and Maryland Environmental Service.
The governor also issued a formal request to determine if there's an efficient way to dredge the dam and reuse the dredged materials.
“By issuing this Request for Information, we are calling for innovative minds to step forward with good ideas, so that we can tackle this problem from all angles, with everything we’ve got.”
The dam is owned and operated for profit by power company Exelon Corporation. They are required to have a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The license governs all aspects of hydropower facility operations, including environmental protection. Exelon's current license expired in 2014, and the company has been operating the dam on a temporary annual license ever since.That attitude pisses me off. For almost 90 years, Conowingo Dam has protected the Bay from sediment and nutrient pollution from upstream. To hold them responsible for the inevitable end of its useful life seems bassackwards to me. It's not that Conowingo has been totally benign; the dam has certainly been a factor in blocking fish migrations, but they have, and continue to attempt to mitigate that. If anything, they should have been be paid for the benefit of blocking the nutrient and sediment pollution
Exelon filed an application with FERC for a renewed, long-term federal license back in 2012. Their application proposed spending $16,700 on the sediment problem each year. That license application has not yet been approved.
ConowingoDam.org, a nonprofit organization comprised of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and American Rivers, says the federal relicensing offers a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to repair the environmental damage the dam is causing. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the project must be certified by the state of Maryland to meets state water quality standards, before FERC can issue a new license. According to ConowingoDam.org, that gives the state a chance to "hold Exelon accountable for Conowingo's environmental damage and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay."