Tell MDE your concerns about Conowingo
The Maryland Department of the Environment public comment period for the Conowingo Dam Water Quality Certification renewal closes Jan. 15. This is our biggest chance, as citizens of Maryland, to voice our concerns over the way the dam is operated.
The MDE certification is mandatory to obtain before Exelon is federally relicensed (the company has requested a 46-year lease term without any significant changes in how it operates). This will be the precedent for the federal re-licensing process. Please voice your concerns to the MDE (elder. ghigiarelli@ maryland. gov). Mine are as follows: I own and operate a commercial oyster aquaculture operation in the Chester River — Orchard Point Oyster Co. Through careful record keeping and discussions with those most knowledgeable on the dam’s operation, I feel its openings and closures have a direct and profound effect on our business, the Chesapeake Bay’s aquaculture industry, as well as the public oyster fishery.
We have witnessed severely depressed salinity levels in the Bay, directly following extended high-flow freshwater output from the Dam. These low levels of salinity negatively affect our oyster’s survival, growth-rates and brand, as well as jeopardize our nursery operations.
In 2017, we were delayed three months in deploying seed in our Bay-based nursery. This was primarily due to extended high-flow openings (14-plus days), at levels two to three times the historic 50-year median flow levels. In addition, the regular sediment spill-overs can increase mortality, even for oysters raised off the bottom. These conditions also negatively affect the public oyster fishery, arguably to an even greater degree, given the lesser ability to control growing conditions.
These are just our small observations on how the current manner of operating the dam has negatively impacted our business. The high late winter-summer flow levels from the dam disrupt and impact all downstream Bay species during critical annual spawning periods. Oysters, unlike other finfish and shellfish, cannot move to evade low salinity, low dissolved oxygen or sedimentation — all negative conditions partially caused by how the dam is operated. Neither can farm operations, which are bound to leased bottom/water. The oysters’ ecological services provide a public benefit to all.
Exelon must take these concerns into account when operating the Conowingo Dam. Currently, Exelon opens and closes the dam based on commodity pricing (opening/generating when the price of electric is high) and does not consider downstream environmental