ANNAPOLIS — The State Senate on Thursday, Feb. 27, passed a joint resolution that would urge Congress to fund a project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the reservoir behind the Conowingo Dam.
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-31-Anne Arundel, is the resolution’s primary sponsor. He called the Conowingo Dam “the big elephant in the room” when it comes to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
“If we don’t address the issues of the Conowingo, all of the other billions of dollars we’re spending aren’t going to have much of an effect,” Simonaire said.
Water flows from the Susquehanna River to the Conowingo Dam and eventually out to the Bay. For years, concern has risen about sediment trapped behind the reservoir of the dam escaping into the Bay during large storm events and polluting the water.
Currently, the company licensed to run the dam, Exelon, doesn’t have to dredge behind the dam or manage the sediment. However, Exelon is at the end of its relicensing process, and groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have lobbied to include a dredging condition in the relicensing.
Since the Susquehanna River watershed covers multiple states and the Bay is a national treasure, Simonaire said, the sediment behind the Conowingo Dam is more than a Maryland issue.
“It’s trying to bring together all the initiatives going on and make sure we have funding to do that,” said Simonaire, who added the resolution is a way for Maryland to ask the federal government for help on the issue.
Dredging the reservoir was a previous recommendation under a study conducted by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission Sediment Task Force. That was done more than a decade ago, said Andrew Gavin, deputy executive director of SRBC.
Gavin said one of the recommendations also was to continue to study the issue, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook that study.
The Corps of Engineers study is in its third year. Public Affairs Specialist for the Corps’ Baltimore District Ashley Roberts said dredging is one of the “many management alternatives we evaluated to address the loss of nutrient and sediment trapping capacity” behind the Conowingo Dam.
“We looked at how the dredging could be conducted, and the conceptual level costs associated with the various dredging methods,” Roberts said. “Since we are currently developing the report, findings and conclusion are still under development, but will be releasable in the coming months.”
“We’ve been studying the Conowingo for years, decades, and it’s time to take some action,” said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-31-Anne Arundel.
The bill is now in the House of Delegates for review. Simonaire said it has had a “swelling of support,” including from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Critical Area Commission’s chairman.
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