It’s time to take out the dam trash
“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.