The Hogan administration yesterday announced that Maryland has made significant progress toward solving environmental problems stemming from the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River.
This progress includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recognition of the Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan multi-state strategy and plan to hire a third-party fundraiser and project coordinator; and Maryland’s selection of a winning bidder to carry out a pilot project for dredging, beneficial reuse, and testing of sediment behind the dam.
“From the beginning of our administration, we have warned of the risks posed by debris and pollution flowing down the Susquehanna River and over the Conowingo Dam,” said Governor Larry Hogan, who chairs the Chesapeake Executive Council regional commission.
“With a cleanup plan specific to the Conowingo Dam, dredging that provides materials for beneficial reuse, and an environmental plan for the dam’s relicensing that includes stringent environmental conditions, we can help launch a restoration economy and restore the Bay,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.
The presence of any dam, including the Conowingo Dam, influences the flow and conditions of a waterway in ways that impact its ability to naturally transport and process sediment and associated nutrients that can negatively affect water quality.
For many years, the Conowingo Dam improved water quality in the lower Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay by trapping sediment that can contain nutrients.
However, because the reservoir has reached capacity, the dam is no longer acting as a trap. This leads to additional nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus that in the past would have been trapped by the dam – entering the Bay.
THE CONOWINGO WATERSHED IMPLEMENTATION PLAN
Maryland and the other Chesapeake Bay watershed states are several years into the implementation of federally required state-by-state plans to collectively reduce water pollution and restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Last year, the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership unanimously agreed on the need to develop an additional plan – known as the Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) – to specifically reduce pollution associated with the loss of the Conowingo Dam’s capacity to trap sediment in the reservoir behind the dam.
A key step was taken when the EPA issued a Request for Applications (RFA) for work on the Conowingo WIP. The EPA plans to award one to three cooperative agreements for work that will support the efforts of the watershed jurisdictions, along with other partners, to help restore the Bay.
THE PILOT PROJECT
The Maryland Environmental Service (MES), in coordination with MDE and the Governor’s Bay Cabinet, has selected Northgate Dutra JV to carry out a $3 million pilot project to test the quality of sediment throughout the Conowingo reservoir and to dredge and beneficially reuse a small portion of it to create a market for cost-effective recovery of material that has greater value on the land than as a threat to water quality in the river or Bay.
The proposed pilot project schedule provides for the work to be substantially complete in 2019. The pilot project will be fully funded by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
“MES is committed to expeditiously moving this pilot project forward utilizing innovative solutions for preserving and enhancing the health of the Bay,” said MES Director and CEO Roy McGrath. “The project will aid in identifying and ultimately reducing contaminants in the reservoir behind the hydroelectric dam, preventing those from flowing downstream, and leading to continued improvements in water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”