Energy companies are now negotiating with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 30-year license renewals for three plants in Maryland and Pennsylvania, a process that will enable the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, corresponding state authorities and private sector conservationists to demand improvements to existing fish ladders.30 years is long enough. It's time to redo the fishways correctly so that the shad will use them. Conowingo isn't supposed to last longer than 30 years anyway. As I've pointed out before, ever since I arrived in Maryland in 1985, the estimated useful life remaining in Conowingo before the reservoir silts up hopelessly has been put out as 20 years, the number recently put out by USFS hydrologist Mike Langland. The shad probably can't wait another 20 years to find out what the next iteration of Conowingo is like.
The plants include Exelon Corporation’s Conowingo Dam, the first hurdle shad face out of Chesapeake Bay, and its Muddy Run Reservoir and Olympus Power’s York Haven Hydro Station in Pennsylvania, the last dam on the Susquehanna River.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage changes that will help move shad and other migratory species,” said Andrew Shiels, deputy director of field operations for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, a stakeholder in relicensing negotiations. “We won’t have a chance like this again for another 30 years, so we have to be on the right track.”
Shad numbers on the Susquehanna in the past decade alone have tumbled from 600,000 in one year to a record low of 19,000, largely because fishways approved in the last licensing period have been ineffective, Mr. Shiels said. “Thirty years ago,” he said, “these fishways were considered the be-all and end-all, but we now know more than we did then. For instance, water coming through a fishway has to be stronger than on the rest of the river, because shad are attracted to current flow.”