After years of study and haggling over how to deal with the impact of Conowingo Dam on the Chesapeake Bay, the Hogan administration has ordered the hydropower facility’s operator to reduce nutrient pollution passing through the dam on its way down the Susquehanna River — or pay up to $172 million a year for someone else to do it.I have no problem with that. There is a real problem with anadromous fish not being able to get past Conowingo in sufficient numbers.
Maryland has ordered Exelon to offset impacts of nutrient and sediment pollution, water releases on lower Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.
The Maryland Department of the Environment announced Friday that it had issued a condition-laden water quality certification needed by the utility before it could receive a new federal license to continue operating the hydroelectric dam. The 59-page document directs the facility’s owner, Exelon Corp., take a series of steps to help spawning fish over the 94-foot high dam, to produce a more natural river flow and to improve fish habitat and water quality.
MDE directed Exelon, which is seeking a new 50-year license for Conowingo, to make annual reductions of 6 million pounds of nitrogen and 260,000 pounds of phosphorus in the lower Susquehanna below the dam. Those are the amount of nutrient reductions studies have indicated are needed to offset the impact of the dam on Upper Bay water quality. If the company does not make those reductions itself, then the MDE directed it to pay “in-lieu fees” if nothing else is done to reduce the nutrient flows.If there were any justice, the farmers of Pennsylvania and New York, as well as the various municipalities in the Susquehanna drainage, whose eroding farms and polluted storm water flows actually sent the sediment and other pollutants down the river would be paying these fees instead of the company whose asset was actually responsible for sequestering these pollutants, would pay the fees.
“From the beginning of our administration, we have sounded the warning on the problems caused by the Conowingo Dam,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. He said the conditions in the state’s certification provide “a strong framework for working with the upstream states and private partners such as Exelon to take real actions to address the sediment and nutrient pollution problems caused by the dam so we can preserve the Bay for future generations.”
The state’s action drew praise from environmental groups. Alison Prost, acting vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, thanked Hogan and MDE for wanting to hold Exelon accountable, saying that “the very presence of this dam alters the form and timing of river water and pollution reaching the Chesapeake Bay.”
Exelon spokeswoman Deena O’Brien said the company was reviewing the state’s conditions, while reiterating its longstanding position that the dam itself is not adding nutrient pollution to the river or the Bay.
Exelon had previously agreed to a number of the conditions laid out by the MDE, including an ambitious plan to increase the numbers of American shad, river herring and eels getting upriver past Conowingo and three other dams. But talks between the company and Maryland apparently broke down over additional conditions the MDE wanted to impose regarding water quality.
“We were very far apart,” Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said, both about what Exelon would have to do about the nutrients and sediment flowing past the dam and about the way in which the hydro facility’s operation alters the natural flow of the river.
If there were any justice.