On Wednesday, the Nanticoke River Watershed Alliance sponsored a public forum in Cambridge about the question of the Conowingo Dam’s impact on local efforts to address water quality. Moderated by Delmarva Public Radios’s News Director, Don Rush, the panel included Dr. William Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Charles “Chip” McLeod, attorney with Funk & Bolton, Ron Fithian, Kent County Commissioner and Dr. Beth McGee, Senior Scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Questions about the impact of the Conowingo have increased in the months since Dorchester County hired the law firm of Funk & Bolton to build a coalition of county governments to draw attention to the effects of the Conowingo Dam on Bay pollution reduction efforts. At present, the coalition, called Clean Chesapeake Coalition has 7 Maryland member counties (Allegany, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick and Kent).
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other local environmental groups have said that the Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s focus on the Conowingo Dam misses the point, and is driving public reaction toward taking fewer local pollution reduction steps, waiting for someone else to fix the problem of sediment overflow from the Susquehanna River. It is their contention that the momentum gained in the WIP (Watershed Implementation Plan) process will be lost with a change in focus away from the state and local efforts underway.
During the forum, Chip McLeod and Ron Fithian, both of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, repeatedly made the point that the sediment flowing through the dam is the elephant in the room. They claim that spending the projected $14.5 billion in state WIP budgets on additional methods to clean the Bay while ignoring the dam is neither prudent nor fiscally responsible. McLeod said that the dam’s reservoirs are so full, and the scouring effect so detrimental, that the dam should be deemed a new point source of pollution.
CBF Senior Scientist Dr. Beth McGill and Dr. Dennison presented evidence that gains in water quality and other Bay health indicators show that many of the practices in place now, such as agricultural buffers, cover crops, storm and wastewater management improvements are working. McGee said that Bay pollution sources are local problems that need local solutions. “The time is now” is CBF’s latest credo, and speaks to the immense collaborative work undertaken to create the blueprint that now simply needs to be followed, in order to meet clean water goals by 2025.
“Since 1976, when Bay restoration started, we’ve missed goals because nobody was held accountable,” said McGee. “What’s different now, is that this time, there is accountability and deadlines. We have the blueprint, now we need to let the process work.”
McLeod said that the Coalition intends to focus on the re-licensing of the Conowingo Dam, which expires in 2014, and does not plan to pursue any lawsuits at this time.
McGee said that CBF and the CCC can work together to find and insure state and federal funding, maintain farm bill funding to support local projects, hold Exelon accountable to implement some sediment management and support local efforts.
The next local forum on this issue is:
Saturday, April 2o – Chestertown - Bruce Michael, Director Resource Assessment Service, MD DNR will speak at the Kent Democratic Club’s April 20 meeting, 10 A.M., Little Yellow Library building. Coffee & conversation at 9:30. Bruce will cover Susquehanna River facts, impacts on the Chesapeake Bay from high flow events, Conowingo Dam re-licensing and status of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment studies.