The Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed Tuesday to intervene in the administrative proceedings of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the re-licensing of the hydropower facility at Conowingo Dam owned by Exelon Corporation. CBF will be advocating as the regional watchdog for the Chesapeake Bay to pursue a comprehensive solution to the water quality and habitat impacts of the dam.
“The public can rest assured many eyes will continue to scrutinize this process,” said Kim Coble, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration. “The Susquehanna is getting cleaner, and we will insist the trend continue, just as we are pushing for cleaner creeks and rivers throughout the Chesapeake Bay area.”
Since 1986, CBF has helped reduce pollution coming down the Susquehanna and reaching the dam, but more needs to be done. In the late 1980s CBF also was involved in the previous relicensing of the dam, and filed comments in support of actions to improve the ability of migratory fish to pass by the dam and access historic upstream habitat. More recently, CBF also is participating on a committee to help find a solution to sediment build-up at the Conowingo.
This intervention will ensure CBF continues to be heard when FERC negotiates and sets the conditions for Exelon’s new license. The owner, as well as the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, must meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act to ensure the Bay and local waters are protected.
Intervention provides CBF with the opportunity to comment to FERC on proposed license conditions before the license is issued and also to challenge the final license for the dam in federal court if CBF is not satisfied with the conditions placed in the license.
Intervention also will provide CBF another valuable opportunity—to advocate for a comprehensive solution to Maryland and Pennsylvania officials who must, under the Clean Water Act, certify that the solution protects the water quality of the states.
In the mid-1990s, researchers estimated that the three upstream Susquehanna dams, including the Conowingo Dam, were trapping about two percent of the nitrogen, 40 percent of the phosphorus, and 70 percent of the suspended sediment that would have entered the Bay from the Susquehanna River.
By trapping suspended sediment, the Conowingo has helped reduce contributions of sediment and phosphorus to the Chesapeake and helped to restore the Bay. But the sediment storage capacity of Conowingo Reservoir has been gradually declining.
The management of the sediment in these reservoirs is an important part of future strategies for reducing pollution, especially phosphorus and sediment to the Bay. A comprehensive solution must include a significant role for Exelon, as well as continued reduction of pollution from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland to the Susquehanna River and to the Chesapeake Bay.
CBF also remains concerned with restoring migratory fish in the Susquehanna, and improving fish passage at Conowingo Dam is key to that recovery. Improving upstream and downstream passage for American shad, hickory shad, American eel, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, alewife, and blueback herring is essential to the recovery of these fish populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
As part of the relicensing of the project, fish passage improvements must be secured, including changes to the existing fish lifts and flow modifications to improve fish migration through the lift and to reduce fish mortality. With decades of experience in Bay fisheries, CBF has much to contribute to discussions on fish passage issues at the Conowingo, and must have recourse should proposed solutions be inadequate.