The owner of the Conowingo Dam may lose a key permit to generate electricity from the dam in the years to come because of "insufficient information" about the dam's impact on the state's water quality.Since 1928, Conowingo Dam has been helping the Chesapeake Bay by intercepting suspended sediments, and their associated nutrients and toxics, and sequestering them in the sediments behind the dam. The pool behind the dam is filling with mud, and can no longer hold all the sediment, which tend to wash out of the pool into the Bay during extreme flood events producing a pulse of pollution.
The Maryland Department of the Environment said in a statement they intend to deny Exelon Corp.'s application for a license to continue operating the 500-megawatt dam, claiming Exelon has provided "insufficient information ... regarding the impacts of the activity on State water quality standards."
Exelon received a one-year operating extension from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission while federal and state agencies reviewed how sediment and nutrient runoff from the dam was affecting the Susquehanna watershed and the Chesapeake Bay.
While the corporation filed its application to obtain the operating license on Jan. 31, Exelon is required to demonstrate to the Maryland Department of the Environment its ability to meet standards outlined by the federal Clean Water Act.
When I arrived in Maryland in 1985, one of the first conferences I attended featured the head of the EPA Chespeake Bay Program who told us that the greatest single challenge to the Bay was the imminent end of Conowingo's sediment capacity. Since then, nothing has been done.
Now that the time has finally arrived, all the regulators can do is point to the people who actually saved them from some 86 years of polluted sediment running down into the Bay, and demand that they somehow save them. And they've decided that dredging is no long one of the options. I'm sure what they are angling for is some form of "reparations", a bit of environmentalist extortion.
If Exelon were to walk away from the dam today, the sediment would continue to pour down from the dam during storms, and the region, already low on power supplies, would lose 500 MW of renewable. If I ran Exelon, I would be strong tempted.