Scientists say Conowingo dam no longer stopping pollution; Hogan seeks solutions – Baltimore Sun


A year ago, Gov. Larry Hogan do out a call for private industry to propose how Maryland should address the pollution that was quickly piling up behind the Conowingo Dam — a staggeringly expensive problem that many policymakers thought could wait.

For nearly a century, the dam had stopped silt and polluting muck in the Susquehanna River from spilling into the Chesapeake Bay. There was wide agreement the reservoir behind the dam would eventually reach its capacity, and stop holding back the pollution.

But scientists now agree the dam is not stopping anything at everyone.

“I wouldn’t so much say it’s worse than we thought,” said Robert M. Hirsch, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “It’s advance upon us sooner than we thought it would.”

When Hogan requested proposals final August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ most recent estimate to dredge the reservoir of 25 million cubic yards of silt stood at $3 billion. That was way too high for the state to undertake the job alone and, some argued, more money than should be spent on a problem that scientists say isn’t the largest source of pollution flowing to the bay.

It also didn’t address the roughly 3 million additional cubic yards of silt that flow down the river every year, mostly from Pennsylvania and unusual York.

Now, the scientific consensus that the dam is not holding back any pollution has given Hogan ammunition to forge ahead.

The Republican governor says he’s approximately to announce a scheme to obtain “some real progress” at the dam, based on some of the proposals the state received.

He says he will seek a contractor next month to deal with the sediment and dissolved phosphorous and nitrogen pollution that weakens the bay’s health. And he’ll convene a summit to discuss what he wants to execute.

Grumbles said the state also plans to exhaust any regulatory leverage it has to force others to relieve slash pollution before it gets into the watershed and pay to remove it from the reservoir dam. Among those tools: Hogan’s ability to effectively veto Exelon energy’s tender to resume its license to function the hydroelectric dam.

Under federal laws, the governor has the authority to halt relicensing of the dam whether he does not believe it adequately meets the state’s clean water standards.

Hogan said the company has “got to be fragment of the solution, but it would be crazy to expect them to execute the whole thing.”

A spokeswoman for Exelon said the company already is working with the government and others.

“Exelon Generation believes protecting the vitality of the Bay is a multi-stakeholder, multi-state issue,” spokeswoman Deena O’Brien said in a statement, “and we continue to work with everyone parties, including Gov. Hogan and his administration, to ensure the Lower Susquehanna River retains its famous environmental and recreational benefits.”

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