Conowingo Dam Report Released, Shows Dam is Not the Problem - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Conowingo Dam Report Released, Shows Dam is Not the Problem

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SALISBURY, Md.- The Conowingo Dam is not to blame. That is one of the many highlights of a new Chesapeake Bay pollution report put together by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Annually, the Susquehanna River and its tributaries contribute 43 percent of the total pollutants that reach the Chesapeake Bay. The report, titled the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment, stated 13 percent of those pollutants (43 percent of the total to the bay) are coming from the Conowingo Dam. The other 87 percent of the pollutants are coming from the other water ways and tributaries that make up the Susquehanna River Watershed. The 13 percent coming from the dam is a number much lower than many expected. However, there is an issue with the dam.

According to the report, the reservoir behind the Conowingo Dam is essentially full of sediment and nutrients. A large storm could wash away a large portion of those pollutants right into the Chesapeake Bay. Over time, the capacity of the reservoir will make it difficult for the dam to continue to be effective.

Two solutions to the problem were discussed in the report that may help the health of the bay. The first, short-term solution, according to the report would be dredging the reservoir or removing the sediment and placing it somewhere else. Both, according to this report, are extremely expensive solutions with one giant flaw. Over time, the reservoir is going to fill back up and the process would need to be repeated. In fact, to see any net benefits to the health of the bay, dredging would need to be done annually, or on a cycle, but the costs of those projects is something that cannot be sustained.

The recommendation of the report's authors is for the states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay to come up with the long term solutions. State plans that work to reduce the sediments and nutrients, like phosphorus, from getting into the bay are, according the report, the most efficient and effective way of restoring the bay's health over time.

Wilbur Levingood with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, says Conowingo acts as a safety net during storms, and needs to be dredged to avoid situations like the after effects of tropical storm Lee.  During that 2011 storm, the floodgates at the dam had to be opened, sediment slipped through, and was visible for miles down the Chesapeake.

"The reality of it here is that it needs to be dredged and continually maintained to prevent the sediment and help restore the health of the bay," said Levingood.

He says all the hard work farmers do on the eastern shore could be wiped out in a major storm.  But the report still says dredging is not a cost effective solution.

It states the problems need to be eliminated at the source:  the 27,000 square mile Susquehanna watershed.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes that's the right way to go.

"It's important to ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely.  It makes sense to look at the biggest source of pollution, and that is pollution from our farms, from our cities, from our backyard, and ensure we are investing in fixing the problems at their source," said Eastern Shore director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Alan Girard.

It's a debate that's not going away anytime soon, despite this latest pollution report.

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