It’s time to take out the dam trash

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

“I called and filed a com­plaint re­gard­ing our ‘choco­late’ Bay to Gov­er­nor Ho­gan’s Of­fice. I en­cour­age more com­plaints to be filed. He needs to openly ad­dress this prob­lem and [find] an im­me­di­ate so­lu­tion. We’re mov­ing into hur­ri­cane sea­son,” Bet­ter­ton res­i­dent Mel Rape­lyea posted on Face­book last month with a pic­ture of what is usu­ally a blue wa­ter­way turned brown.

Fol­low­ing late July storms, Chesapeake Bay waters in our area were not look­ing pretty. Boaters re­ported is­lands of de­bris. Pho­tos showed mari­nas in Annapolis choked with wood and refuse.

“Imag­ine you’ve got de­bris from con­struc­tion, whole trees, tree branches — any­thing imag­in­able that can float has a chance to be in the bay,” said Candi Thom­son, spokesman for the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice, in late July of what was be­ing found on our beloved Chesapeake.

Fin­gers all pointed in one di­rec­tion: north. On July 26, Ex­elon opened 20 spill gates on its Conowingo Dam to re­duce high wa­ter lev­els from heavy storms within the Susque­hanna River water­shed. The Susque­hanna feeds into the bay and the Conowingo Dam is the gate­keeper.

And here we are now in the mid­dle of hur­ri­cane sea­son, a storm al­ready hav­ing bat­tered the Caroli­nas.

“In keep­ing with their com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal ste­ward­ship, dam op­er­a­tors pre­vent more than 600 tons of de­bris from en­ter­ing the Chesapeake Bay each year. Dur­ing se­vere weather and dan­ger­ous Susque­hanna River con­di­tions, op­er­a­tors must open the dam’s flood­gates to pro­tect lo­cal towns from flood­ing and preser ve the in­tegrity and safety of the dam,” Ex­elon’s web­site states. “Sev­eral re­cent news ac­counts fol­low­ing a pe­riod of se­verely high wa­ter flows un­fairly pointed to de­bris in the bay as ev­i­dence that Ex­elon Gen­er­a­tion is not com­mit­ted to the en­vi­ron­ment. That is sim­ply not true.”

We are not say­ing Ex­elon is not com­mit­ted to the en­vi­ron­ment. When those flood gates open, though, what comes through ver y quickly in­creases the level of pol­lu­tion in the bay.

The Clean Chesapeake Coali­tion jumped on the is­sues posed by the dam and its nearly full reser voir that is sup­posed to trap sed­i­ment and pol­lu­tants years ago. Com­pris­ing of­fi­cials from Kent, with County Com­mis­sioner Ron Fithian as chair­man, Queen Anne’s, Ce­cil, Car­roll, Dorch­ester and Caro­line coun­ties, the coali­tion has ar­gued that bay cleanup ef­forts will con­tinue to be ren­dered moot as spill from the dam in­tro­duces tons of pol­lu­tants.

“While it may be true that the Dam does not it­self cre­ate pol­lu­tion, CCC con­tends that its op­er­a­tions have a se­verely neg­a­tive im­pact on the health of the Bay and that the 14-mile reser­voir be­hind the Dam, also the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Ex­elon, must be prop­erly main­tained so that the down­stream cleanup progress made to date is not wiped out by the next ma­jor storm event,” the coali­tion web­site states.

The Friends of East­ern Neck, the vol­un­teer corps that so ef­fec­tively lob­bied to en­sure the fed­eral gov­ern­ment main­tains and staffs East­ern Neck Na­tional Wildlife Refuge near Rock Hall, also are call­ing for some­thing to be done about the de­bris that is com­ing through the dam.

Fol­low­ing the late July storms, Gov. Larry Ho­gan and Comptroller Peter Fran­chot raised con­cerns about what spilled through the Conowingo Dam, as well as the need for up­stream states to start clean­ing up their wa­ter­ways.

“Last week’s heavy rain­fall, that led to record flows at the Conowingo Dam, was an­other re­minder of the new nor­mal we’re fac­ing. Alarm­ing and un­ac­cept­able lev­els of pol­lu­tion are the new nor­mal,” Fran­chot said at an Aug. 1 state Board of Pub­lic Works meet­ing. “To be blunt, we’re lit­er­ally drown­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia’s trash. Ev­ery state in the Chesapeake Bay Water­shed Com­pact needs to start act­ing like a good neigh­bor and hold up its end of the bar­gain.”

“This is an eco­nomic and eco­log­i­cal cri­sis that we have. Dur­ing a ma­jor storm like this, up to 80 per­cent of all the de­bris of phos­pho­rous and ni­tro­gen and sed­i­ment comes into the bay through the Conowingo Dam. I can tell you we’ve in­vested $4 bil­lion into the cleanup of the Bay,” Ho­gan said at the Board of Pub­lic Works meet­ing.

The state is work­ing to hold Ex­elon ac­count­able for what comes through the Conowingo Dam as the util­ity com­pany seeks to re­new its fed­eral li­cense. Penn­syl­va­nia and New York, both states in the Chesapeake water­shed, also need to put forth a real ef­fort to curb the pol­lu­tion that flows all the way down to our bay.

Hope­fully this fall we won’t see any­more storms send­ing tons of “Penn­syl­va­nia’s trash” stream­ing into the Chesapeake once again.

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