(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is concerned that the settlement agreement announced today between Exelon and the Maryland Department of the Environment falls short of mitigating the negative water quality impacts associated with operating Conowingo Dam.
The settlement requires Exelon to invest about $200 million to obtain an approximately 50-year licensing agreement to operate the dam. The agreement includes funding for trash removal at the Dam, mussel restoration, improved fish passage, and agricultural conservation practices. While all of these are laudable projects, CBF had advocated that the majority of any funds be spent on upstream practices that would reduce the sediments and nutrient pollutants that reach the dam. This approach was identified by the 2016 Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment as being the most cost-effective way to reduce downstream water quality impacts.
In addition, Exelon’s investment is significantly smaller than what a previous study found the energy company could contribute while still netting a profit from the dam. The study commissioned by CBF and The Nature Conservancy found Exelon could provide between $27 million to $44 million per year for water quality improvements.
For decades, the dam on the Susquehanna River trapped significant amounts of sediment and nutrient pollutants from farms and other sources behind the dam. Now though, the dam’s reservoir is full and significant storm events scour pollutants from behind the dam and send them into the Chesapeake Bay.
These scouring events affect the timing and amount of pollution that enters the Bay and the events harm fish, habitat, and water quality downstream.
In response to the settlement, CBF’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost issued the following statement:
“We still need more details on the settlement agreement. However, we believe Exelon’s identified projects and the roughly $4 million per year commitment over the dam’s nearly 50-year licensing agreement are insufficient investments to offset the negative water quality impacts caused by the dam’s operations. Based on our previous analysis, Exelon can and should invest more. CBF has long held that Exelon is responsible for mitigating pollution from the Conowingo Dam and the best way to do so is by addressing it with significant environmental improvements upstream.”