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Maryland Department of the Environment

Departments of Environment and Natural Resources Emphasize Need For Local Pollution Reduction Strategies to be Fully Implemented


Samantha Kappalman

Jay Apperson



Senator Cardin holds field hearing on relicensing of the Conowingo Dam

(CONOWINGO, MD) May 5, 2014 – United States Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, held a field hearing today to expand the public’s understanding of the environmental challenges presented by the build-up of sediment and nutrients behind the Conowingo Dam as well as the Dam’s relicensing process. Information was presented to the public by experts from the many State and federal partners working together to improve water quality, protect aquatic and vegetative life and encourage recreation and fishing in our lakes, rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Robert M. Summers and Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Joe Gill released the following statement on today’s hearing:

Protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay to make it the most productive, vital ecosystem, with good water quality and habitat that supports the diversity of fish, shellfish and other aquatic organisms, and safe for all recreational activities such as swimming, boating and fishing is a top priority of Governor O’Malley and the State of Maryland. We applaud Senator Cardin’s efforts to enhance public knowledge and outreach on the Conowingo Dam’s environmental challenges and the activities of State, federal and non-governmental partners to address the problems. 

It is important to recognize that the Conowingo Dam is not the Bay’s only or even its main problem.  Scour of sediments from behind the dam in a storm event can add up to 20 percent of the pollution load, but 80 percent of thee pollution load originates from the watershed to the Bay. Storm events and sediment and nutrient-filled runoff come from every part of the watershed.  Just as in the reservoir behind this dam, sediment and nutrients are trapped in every farm pond, stormwater pond and reservoir throughout the Bay and its tributary watersheds, and storm events carry trapped pollutants into local streams and rivers, just as they do in the Bay.

The key to restoring the Bay and its tributaries lies in reducing pollution from sources throughout each local watershed – following their Watershed Implementation Plans. Over time, as the Bay watershed is cleaned up storms will have less impact and the Bay will be healthier and more resilient.

Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Program partners have long been aware of the challenges related to the nutrients and sediments behind the Dam and have been working for decades to determine strategic solutions. From the late 1990s with The Susquehanna River Basin Commission’s (SRBC), appointment of  a special Sediment Task Force to assess the potential increase in sediment delivery by the Susquehanna river to the Bay and the Sediment Task Force recommendations in June 2002 to the ongoing Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment (LSRWA) Study.   To that end, we continue working with all our Chesapeake Bay Program partners from the original 2010 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) through the 2017 Mid Point Assessment, the Conowingo Dam Relicensing effort with Exelon, and Army Corps of Engineers/Maryland Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment study to develop the best science and management solutions to efficiently and cost effectively mitigate for the potential negative impacts from excess sediments and nutrients from the Dam reaching “dynamic equilibrium” or capacity.

In addition to all of the studies and the work that needs to be done as part of the relicensing process, it cannot be said enough that the Watershed Implementation Plans are proven, science-based blueprints already in place that outline pollution reduction strategies needed to improve water quality in our local tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay. Their full implementation is critical to a successful Bay restoration.”