The Conowingo Dam situation is a modern day travesty against water quality throughout the upper portions of the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. For 86 years, the accumulation of sediment and toxins that have collected north of the Dam are having a devastating impact on our fisheries, particularly when a major fresh water event takes place. The well advertised satellite photos of tropical storm Lee allowed us to view the millions of tons of sediment as it was dispensed by the tidal waters as far as the Potomac River. One cannot over-state the damage that has been done to the oyster and soft shell clam industries while we find ourselves in the middle of a terrible blue crab harvest. We are, for all intents and purposes, out of the oyster and clam fisheries in the Upper Bay, as these areas have been smothered by a blanket of sedimentation. Further damage continues to be done to Bay grasses (sav) which provide important habitat while producing life-giving oxygen that all marine animals depend on. This needs to STOP!
The utility that holds the permit to use the Conowingo Hydro-electric Dam is going through the permitting process that could be reissued next year. It has been 40 years since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last issued a permit for this facility. The time is now for FERC to make it a condition of the issuance of a new permit that the utility and the state of Pennsylvania develop a plan to mitigate the sediment that has been allowed to accumulate over the past 86 years. If this opportunity is missed, the further demise of our precious Chesapeake Bay will be assured and all the good efforts to date would have been in vain.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. We have less crabs, a fraction of the oyster population and no soft shell clams and Bay grasses are but a shadow of their former status. In recent years, we have seen a flush tax, nutrient management programs, critical area’s restrictions, storm water controls, emission testing, bat septic system requirements and now a rain tax, just to name a few, save the litany of chemical reductions. Citizens are willing to do their share to help restore our beloved Chesapeake Bay, how about government? This is why I suggest that all levels of our government have an absolute obligation to hold all parties accountable for what is certainly the single worst point source of sediment pollution affecting the Bay to date. Not so long ago, the Board of County Commissioners that I served on successfully opposed the dumping of dredge spoil at site 104 just north of the Bay Bridge. Yes, it was expensive and time consuming, but I have never regretted our efforts, because there are some things that you must do, this is another issue that demands our best effort.
I dedicate this letter to all of those who derive beauty and benefit from the Chesapeake Bay!
Editor’s note: George O’Donnell is a former Queen Anne’s County Commissioner.