Cecil Daily - Latest dam study points to nutrients, not sediment

  ·  Jane Bellmyer, Cecil Daily   ·   Link to Article

ANNAPOLIS — A joint report on the Conowingo Dam and its impact on the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay has found that the enemy is not the ton of sediment built up behind the almost 90-year-old dam.

What the final report of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment — conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Geological Survey — found is that it is the nutrients in the sediment which do the most damage, creating algae blooms, robbing oxygen from the water and destroying food sources and habitat.

In a followup [sic] statement, however, the Corps of Engineers said that the sediment buildup behind behind the Conowingo Dam must also be addressed.

“If the additional nutrient and sediment load impacts from the Conowingo Dam reaching full capacity are not addressed, bay water-quality standards will not be met by 2025 in three mid-bay segments even with full watershed implementation plan achievement,” officials said.

A past study that laid most of the blame on the Chesapeake Bay’s poor health on sediment scour from the dam that straddles the Susquehanna River north of Port Deposit, also found that dredging operations costs would outweigh any benefit, noting it would be short-lived as the sediment buildup would continue.

“Sediment and nutrients trapped behind and flowing through the Conowingo Dam pose a direct threat to water quality, especially in the portions of the middle and upper Chesapeake Bay,” said Stephen E. Schatz, director of communications for Maryland DNR. “We hope this assessment serves as a wake-up to our federal and state partners and works to hold everyone to account.” 

Schatz said he hopes that this new information would be used by the EPA to review restoration activities.

Currently all participating agencies are submitting draft reports indicating their success in meeting certain milestones of the cleanup plan. The EPA, lead agency in the study, will issue a report on those milestones in June.

One of the first milestones is to have controls in place by 2017 that will equal a 60 percent reduction in pollutants.

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