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View Seth Johnson's blog posts
17 July 2013, 9:41 AM
Dam allowing sediment to dirty Chesapeake Bay
Conowingo Dam. (Michael Jewel)

The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna and Waterkeepers Chesapeake today asked to be included in the relicensing proceedings for the Conowingo Dam, about 50 miles northeast of Baltimore. The dam affects water quality up and down the Susquehanna River and throughout Chesapeake Bay, and the groups plan to push the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require the dam’s owner to take action so that the dam doesn’t harm waters in Maryland, Pennsylvania and beyond.

Only 10 miles from where the Susquehanna pours into the Bay, Conowingo Dam is an ecological time-bomb. Behind the dam lies a massive amount of sediment, a water pollutant that clouds the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, harming underwater vegetation and the animals that rely on it. The dam has been trapping about 55 percent of the incoming sediment in the Susquehanna, but according to predictions by scientists the dam is running out of room to store sediment. And as it runs out of room, more and more sediment pours into the bay. The current plan to clean up the bay doesn’t have a plan to address this problem—and neither does the request for a 46-year permit from the dam’s owners, Exelon Generation.

What’s more, major storms scour sediment that’s built up behind the dam, leading to giant influxes of sediment, phosphorus and other pollutants into the bay. Tropical Storm Lee, in 2011, swept a 100-mile-long plume of sediment—visible from space—from the Susquehanna into the bay.

Sediment Clouds the Chesapeake Bay. (Jeff Schmaltz / MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC)

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