A coalition of conservation groups from the Lower Susquehanna River Basin and the Chesapeake Bay have filed a motion to intervene in the federal relicensing negotiations of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam – calling for a commitment from the dam’s owner, Exelon Corporation, to mitigate almost 200 million tons of sediment pollution that has amassed behind the dam since its construction in 1928.
200 million tons of sediment which, I might remind you, have not entered the Chesapeake Bay as a result of the dam. One might argue whether or not the dam should have been built, but the fact is, having been built, the dam has been operating to reduce the sediment load to the Bay.
“Our seven years of research on Conowingo leaves us with no doubt that the unnatural amounts of sediment that are scoured from Conowingo Pond into the Bay during major storm events are damaging the Bay, making the work of cleaning up the Bay even more difficult,” said Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Michael Helfrich, who represents Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna (SOLS). “Solutions to this, and other impacts, must be addressed in this relicensing process.”
The interveners, which consist of 100 groups and individuals from SOLS and 18 riverkeepers from Waterkeepers Chesapeake, say they “support relicensing of the Dam as long as the final license includes adequate plans to mitigate the environmental and recreational impacts caused by the Dam.”
May I suggest each take custody of 2 million tons of sediment? That should just about take care of the problem. Or perhaps they could dredge it, and send everyone who has benefited from the dam a package (more like a truckload) of the sediment, and a bill for the cost.
SOLS and Waterkeepers Chesapeake filed on the grounds that they would feel the direct impact of adverse conditions “adopted in the final Dam license” and that the relicensing proceedings are “vital for determining what will be done about the Dam’s impoundment and release of large amounts of pollutants – especially sediment.”
Exelon is asking to renew its license through 2060.
In a press release on Friday, Helfrich challenged the assertion often made by Exelon that it is not responsible for sediment pollution that flows to the Dam from Pennsylvania and New York. Helfrich acknowledged that the pollution comes from upstream but said the Dam creates an “unnatural release of pollutants.” He said the sediment behind the Dam weighs in at the equivalent of 2,000 aircraft carriers.
I have my doubts. Certainly the kinds of moderate to large storm events that cause excessive sediment releases with the dam in place, would also cause in most cases, larger releases than they do now. Only in the most extreme cases, like tropical storms and hurricanes, would the release exceed what might be released in the absence of the dam.
“The fact is that they created a “storage facility” that traps the pollutants, and then releases these pollutants in quantities that would otherwise not have entered the Bay all at once,” Helfrich said. “During Tropical Storm Agnes, the Susquehanna delivered three times the amount of pollution to the Bay than it would have if Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo Dams didn’t exist. This unnatural release of pollutants is why we believe that Exelon needs to take some responsibility for the cost of cleaning up the sediment from behind their dam.”
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