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Hearing Focuses on Need for Comprehensive Approach to Restoring the Chesapeake Bay

Addressing sediment and nutrients caught behind Conowingo Dam not enough


CONOWINGO, MD | May 05, 2014

Mitigating the impacts from sediment and nutrients moved from behind the Susquehanna River’s Conowingo Dam will play a necessary, yet relatively small part of the overall strategy to achieve a healthy Chesapeake Bay, according to preliminary findings in an ongoing study discussed during a field hearing held by Sen. Ben Cardin on Monday, May 5. Preliminary findings from the study, which is being led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Maryland, and partners including The Nature Conservancy, indicate that the key to restoring the Bay and its tributaries lies in reducing pollution from sources throughout the watershed.

“Although we know the sediment and nutrients stored behind the dam are contributing to a polluted Chesapeake Bay, it is clear that this is only one part of the problem,” said Mark Bryer, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Chesapeake Bay program. “If we want to ensure clean water and a healthy river for fish, crabs, and people, we need to put into action a plan that mitigates this additional pollution, but also restores critical habitat and accelerates the cost-effective solutions already underway to help the Bay.”

The study, which will be released later this year after peer review and public comment, is evaluating impacts from sediment and nutrient loads related to scour from Susquehanna dams and considering a variety of sediment management strategies. Preliminary findings indicate that if there were no dam at all on the river, storms would still deliver large quantities of sediment and nutrients that harm the Bay, as they do in other rivers like the Potomac, Patuxent, and Choptank.

Sen. Cardin held the field hearing to find cooperative solutions to environmental concerns with the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and operated by Exelon. The dam’s current license expires this year and Exelon has applied for a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the State of Maryland, which will consider potential environmental impacts from the dam in their decisions.

“Maryland is working with our State, federal, and Chesapeake Bay partners to develop and implement a suite of practices to reduce the input of pollution sources throughout the watershed," said DNR Secretary Joe Gill. "Reducing or mitigating the dam's impact on sediment and nutrient pollution is a key issue that will be addressed during the relicensing process. Other issues, including fish passage, flow management, water quality, recreation, debris management, freshwater mussels, and land conservation must also be addressed before a new license can be approved for Conowingo Dam.”

In addition to concerns about clean water, the field hearing highlighted how critical habitats in the lower Susquehanna River have been impacted as the result of the hydropower dam and its operations. Migratory fish such as American shad (once the most lucrative fishery in the Chesapeake) and American eel need access to habitats above the dam, and depend on a healthy river downstream. The Nature Conservancy and partners are working with Exelon to find a better balance between how power is generated and restoration of this critical section of the river.

“With Sen. Cardin highlighting concerns with the dam and the findings of the study set to come out later this year, we have a terrific opportunity to develop and implement the right set of creative strategies that help the Bay and the river,” Bryer said. “It’s a shared responsibility that will rely on the collaboration of the government at every level, energy utilities and other industries, individuals and non-governmental organizations.”


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org

Contact information

Lindsay Renick Mayer
(202) 422-4671
lrenickmayer@tnc.org

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