Exelon’s Share for Mitigation on the Conowingo Dam

Conowingo Dam Eliot Malumuth 695x352

The following first appeared in, The Chestertown Spy.

The Conowingo Dam 20 miles north of the mouth of the Susquehanna River has been the focus of scientific scrutiny and concern since the 1990s, and public worry for the past five years. The reason is simple: the pond behind the dam that trapped dirt for decades now has filled up. 

More of the dirt (also called sediment) and phosphorus clinging to the dirt are reaching downstream water. In addition, storms scour sediment and associated nutrients from the pond and flush it downstream. 

These additional pollutant loads are a problem because we already have too much phosphorus and nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay–from farms, sewage plants, and other sources. These chemicals are plant food, causing algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water when they die and decompose. The added sediment coming through the dam also is a concern for effects on downstream habitats. 

When Bay states and the federal government agreed in 2010 to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake—the so-called Bay pollution diet—they thought we had more time to deal with the situation at the Conowingo. We don't. What to do?

In 2015 the U.S. Army Corps said the most cost-effective solution was to reduce pollution reaching the dam from upstream in Pennsylvania and New York. Governor Hogan has also proposed a small $4 million pilot program to see if dredging at the pond could also be a part of the solution. 

Whatever is determined to be the best solution or set of solutions, one thing is clear: it will cost more money. That's why a new report commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) offers some good news: The owner of the dam can help chip in.

The report, "An Economic Analysis of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Generating Station," concluded Exelon can afford to contribute $27 million to $44 million a year to help fix or mitigate the problem and still make a healthy profit. The study used publicly available finance numbers about Exelon's operations at the dam, as well as standard industry information. It was prepared for Water Power Law Group, CBF, and TNC but researched and written by Energy+Environmental Economics in California. Exelon to date has offered to contribute only $200,000.

The company shouldn't be responsible for the whole solution. It didn't cause pollution from upstream farms, sewage plants, and other sources to discharge into the Susquehanna and flow downstream. 

While it is important to hold Exelon accountable for the impact of the dam on downstream water quality and habitat, it's important to keep the Conowingo issue in context. First, the impacts of the lost trapping capacity and scouring during storm events are significant but not catastrophic. In fact, as the situation at the dam has worsened for the past few years, the water quality in the Bay has steadily been improving. 

Also, studies show that the slug of new pollution moving past the dam will cause effects primarily on the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay. Most rivers that feed the Bay such as the Choptank, Nanticoke and others will not be impacted, nor will the thousands of fresh water streams in Maryland. Local counties and communities will remain responsible for cleaning up pollution in their backyards. 

So, we can't blame Conowingo for all our water woes. The dam is only one of many problems we face trying to clean up the Bay. But we can ask Exelon to do its share, just as we ask everyone else to pitch in. We know the company can afford it.

Tom Zolper

Issues in this Post

Polluted Runoff   Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint   Conowingo Dam and Chesapeake Bay   Polluted Runoff   The Susquehanna River   Water Quality   CBF in Maryland  




DISCLAIMER

PLEASE READ OUR TERMS OF USE

The views and opinions expressed in the media, articles or comments on this site are those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by CBF and the inclusion of such information does not imply endorsement by CBF. CBF is not responsible for the contents of any linked Web, or any link contained in a linked Web site, or any changes or updates to such Web sites. The inclusion of any link or comment is provided only for information purposes. CBF reserves the right to edit or remove any comments and material posted to this website and to ban users from the site without notice. Partisan, pornographic or other inappropriate content, product or service promotion, foul language or bad behavior is expressly forbidden and will be removed.


Support the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

Donate Today

Save the Bay

Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

Save the Bay