Groups push for cleaner wa­ter at Conowingo Dam

Sunday Star - - LOCAL -

BAL­TI­MORE — The Water­keep­ers Ch­e­sa­peake and the Lower Susque­hanna River­keeper As­so­ci­a­tion filed an ad­min­is­tra­tive ap­peal on June 8, urg­ing the Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment to re­con­sider its re­cent wa­ter qual­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and op­er­ated by Ex­elon Cor­po­ra­tion.

Ex­elon has re­quested a new 50-year fed­eral li­cense to op­er­ate the dam, and to re­ceive that li­cense, the state must cer­tify that the dam’s op­er­a­tions will not ad­versely im­pact wa­ter qual­ity un­der the Clean Wa­ter Act.

“This is one of the most im­por­tant de­ci­sions in the ef­fort to clean up the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” said Betsy Ni­cholas, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Water­keep­ers Ch­e­sa­peake, a coali­tion of 19 in­de­pen­dent wa­ter­keeper or­ga­ni­za­tions. “We shouldn’t be ap­prov­ing a 50-year li­cense with­out a solid, ac­count­able plan for

“This is one of the most im­por­tant de­ci­sions in the ef­fort to clean up the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. We shouldn’t be ap­prov­ing a 50-year li­cense with­out a solid, ac­count­able plan for re­mov­ing sed­i­ment from be­hind the dam.” Betsy Ni­cholas, Water­keep­ers Ch­e­sa­peake ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor

re­mov­ing sed­i­ment from be­hind the dam.”

The Conowingo Dam was com­pleted in 1928, and since that time, it has been trap­ping sed­i­ment and nutri­ent pol­lu­tion from the Susque­hanna River and its 27,000-square-mile drainage area. Sed­i­ment is one of the three key pol­lu­tants, along with ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus, that is reg­u­lated un­der the fed­eral Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cleanup plan, known as the TMDL.

Sci­en­tists have con­cluded the reser­voir be­hind the dam is at ca­pac­ity and can­not trap any more sed­i­ment. Af­ter large storms, pow­er­ful flood­wa­ters can scoop out, or “scour,” the stored sed­i­ment be­hind the dam and send that down­stream to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay in the form of pol­lu­tion.

“Sed­i­ment runoff from agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment has been stock­pil­ing be­hind Conowingo dam for nearly 100 years,” said Ted Ev­ge­niadis, Lower Susque­hanna River­keeper. “The Susque­hanna River is a pub­lic re­source, and Ex­elon prof­its from op­er­at­ing a dam on it. Ex­elon there­fore shares a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help pre­vent this sed­i­ment from pol­lut­ing the Bay, and we be­lieve the State of Mary­land must hold them ac­count­able to do so.”

Water­keep­ers Ch­e­sa­peake, Lower Susque­hanna River­keeper As­so­ci­a­tion and Earthjus­tice sub­mit­ted pub­lic com­ments dur­ing the re­li­cens­ing process. The or­ga­ni­za­tions say the Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment has failed to ad­dress them.

The or­ga­ni­za­tions also say that, for the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to pro­tect wa­ter qual­ity, the state must un­der­stand the full po­ten­tial of large flood­ing events that could cause dra­matic harm to the Bay. The new li­cense cov­ers 50 years, but the state has yet to con­duct a study or model how much sed­i­ment pol­lu­tion would be scoured from be­hind the dam dur­ing a 50-year storm, or even a 25year storm, which has an 83 per­cent chance of oc­cur­ring dur­ing the li­cense pe­riod. Sci­en­tists say large storms and heavy rain events are hap­pen­ing more fre­quently due to cli­mate change, which means the risk of a cat­a­strophic storm con­tin­ues to in­crease.

“In just the last month, we’ve seen se­ri­ous, dam­ag­ing flood­ing through­out the re­gion,” Ni­cholas said. “It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble not to ac­count for the in­creas­ingly like­li­hood that Conowingo Dam ex­pe­ri­ences a ma­jor flood dur­ing the next 50 years.”

The Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment is­sued its wa­ter qual­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Conowingo Dam on May 11. While the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ac­knowl­edged the im­pact of the dam on wa­ter qual­ity, in­clud­ing the threat posed by the ac­cu­mu­lated sed­i­ment, it does not put spe­cific mea­sures in place to ad­dress the sed­i­ment.

“When Con­gress adopted the Clean Wa­ter Act, it pur­pose­fully gave states a very broad author­ity on fed­eral per­mits,” said Jen­nifer Chavez, at­tor­ney for Earthjus­tice, which is serv­ing as le­gal coun­sel for the ap­peal. “We’ve filed this re­quest for re­con­sid­er­a­tion be­cause we want to en­sure that Mar yland uses the best avail­able science be­fore ex­er­cis­ing that crit­i­cal author­ity.”

The Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment will re­view the ap­peal and ei­ther grant the re­quest to re­con­sider and re­vise the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or deny it. There is no dead­line by which the de­part­ment must make its de­ci­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.