Conowingo Dam: Sediment Trap & Bay Impact

An interesting environmental controversy, with large economic implications for millions, is taking shape between the owner of Conowingo Dam and a coalition of rural Maryland counties. On the surface at issue is the federal relicensing of Conowingo Dam. Its owner, a power company now called <a href="http://www project management tools”target=”_blank”>Exelon seeks a reissued federal license for Dam operations. The Maryland county governments face high costs of implementing Watershed Improvement Plans (WIPs) which were required by the federal Clean Water Act to achieve implementation of the which were required by the federal Clean Water Act to achieve implementation of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL

The rural Counties, which have banded together under the moniker Clean Chesapeake Coalition contend that the TMDL under-calculated the amount of sediment entering the Bay from runoff sources upstream of the Conowingo Dam (almost all in Pennsylvania and upstate New York). As a consequence, the economic burden they face for WIP implementation is unduly large. Those counties seek for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to exercise its discretion in ordering dredging as a pre-requisite or condition of Dam re-licensing. Exelon seeks to avoid the cost of dredging, which would be burdensome for its shareholders and perhaps electricity rate-payers.

Our view is that sediment entering the Bay comes from everywhere upstream. It comes from lands above the Conowingo Dam as well as from other tributaries that do not drain into the Susquehanna. In a fair and objective manner, all sediment contributors should pay for its restoration. To us it also is clear that provisions of the Bay TMDL have come to be economically burdensome on rural Maryland counties whereas the owner of the Dam (Exelon) is perceived to have deep pockets. If Exelon is ordered by FERC to dredge the river behind the dam, those Counties hope for lessened Bay cleanup costs

We believe that clearly there would be Bay benefit from such dredging and its costs should be borne by up-river sediment generators, and not by electricity rate-payers. We think that FERC is in a position to order this and should. MDE also is right, that only a portion of Bay sediment comes from the Susquehanna. Rural Maryland Counties should continue to do their fair part toward a cleaner Bay too, pursuant to a recalibrated Bay TMDL and updated WIPs, that consider the effect of Conowingo Dam sediment trapping and releases more accurately.

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