Tell MDE your con­cerns about Conowingo

Kent County News - - OPINIONS -

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

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