Conowingo can be cleaned (Editorial)

by | Jan 2, 2018

(Jan. 2, 2018) Welcome to 2018! We have some modestly encouraging news to pass along.
A new study has determined that Exelon, the company which built and operates the Conowingo Dam, makes plenty of money from its power generation to fund whatever it takes to, at least, diminish the dam’s documented ability to release various Susquehanna River pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay.
The study was commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.
Its report, “An Economic Analysis of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Generating Station,” examined the dam’s revenues and expenses, various flow scenarios, market prices and rates of return.
It concluded — and this is the bottom line — that Conowingo generates sufficient revenue to provide $27 million to $44 million annually in “headroom for remediation” depending on flow regimes and energy prices.
“More pollution will come through the Conowingo Dam and into the Bay than scientists previously calculated,” said CBF President Will Baker. “Exelon has the responsibility and revenue to pay for its share of the solution.”
For decades, the Conowingo Dam acted as a drain stop to trap significant amounts of sediment and nutrient pollution flowing from farms, sewage plants and other sources upstream in the Susquehanna River watershed. But the reservoir behind the dam has nearly filled up, and earlier than was expected. Big storms scour some of that pollution from behind the dam and into the Chesapeake.
With all that on the record, Exelon has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a new operating license for the dam. And under federal law the power company also must get the blessing of the Maryland Department of the Environment. Exelon must demonstrate that the dam’s operation meets Maryland’s water quality standards. And to that end, MDE recently held a public hearing on the certification. The public has until Jan. 15 to submit written comments.
CBF and TNC officials both testified at the hearing, urging that MDE require Exelon among other considerations, to mitigate the harm the dam causes to downstream water quality. In other words, come up with the money to control, to whatever extent possible, the sediment and nutrient pollution which annually pours out of the dam into the bay.
Other studies have shown that cleaning up the mess that has accumulated behind the dam is possible.
It’s time Exelon gets it done and, yes, it has plenty of cash to pay for it.
We are putting that job on Exelon’s bucket list for 2018. Happy New Year.

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