CBF Testimony Calls on Exelon to Help Mitigate Pollution and Improve Fish Passages

While preliminary ACOE study finds dam contributes less than 20 percent of sediment pollution from storms, effects of pollution must still be mitigated

(CONOWINGO, MD)—In written testimony given to Senator Cardin's field hearing on the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) called on Exelon to mitigate the damage done by pollution behind the dam and significantly improve fish passages.

"CBF strongly believes that Exelon must work to resolve impacts to fish passage, water quality, and the other issues of concern from dam operations, like re-establishing more natural river flows downstream of the dam" said CBF Senior Water Quality Scientist Beth McGee. "Restoring clean water, good habitat and healthy fish populations to the Chesapeake region depend on collaboration and partnerships among federal, state, nonprofits, and private entities. 

The Conowingo Dam is owned and operated by Exelon. Its current license expires in 2014 and Exelon has applied for a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As part of the re-licensing, FERC must consider potential environmental impacts from the dam and include appropriate conditions in the new permit to minimize these impacts.

Preliminary results from an Army Corps of Engineers study offer a new perspective concerning the impact of pollution stored behind the dam. Results indicate that sediment and nutrients scoured from behind the dam during storm events need to be mitigated to meet downstream Bay restoration goals. But, put into perspective, these impacts are small compared to overall pollution loads affecting the Chesapeake Bay. In particular, study results also suggest during typical storm events, roughly 80 percent of the sediment pollution found downstream of the dam is associated with the high river flows and is not due to scouring of sediment from behind the dam.

"The study reaffirms the need to implement the states' Clean Water Blueprints to restore the Chesapeake and its tidal rivers," McGee said. "But it also makes clear that Exelon has a role to play in mitigating downstream impacts. We are grateful to Senator Cardin for arranging this hearing to provide clarity and understanding to a very complex issue."

CBF is also concerned with the restoration of migratory fish to the Susquehanna, specifically American shad, hickory shad, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, and alewife and blueback herring. These fish populations are at historic lows. As part of the re-licensing, fish passage improvements must be secured, including changes to the existing fish lifts.

In addition, fish passage improvements must include measures for passing American eels upstream, which the current Conowingo fish lifts are not designed to handle. Improving fish passage for American eels into freshwater habitat will facilitate the rebuilding of freshwater mussel populations and improve the health of the freshwater ecosystem in the Susquehanna.

"As a party to the relicensing process, CBF is committed to holding Exelon accountable to do its fair share to protect water quality and the living resources of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay," McGee said.

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

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