The Frederick News-Post editorial of Nov. 19 was wrong in concluding that a new study shows that the sediment-filled Conowingo Pond is not a major cause of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The Conowingo Dam is a major source of pollution in the bay.
The News-Post’s editorial commented on a 1,500-page study (released Nov. 13) on effects of the Conowingo reservoir on pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. This was a joint study done by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Baltimore Sun was quick to interpret the study as if it refuted the claims of those who argue that the water coming over the Conowingo Dam is a major pollutant of the bay. The News-Post then echoed the interpretation of the Sun. But the problem is that the study does not reach such a conclusion — just the opposite — according to the Maryland Department of Environment, in a statement issued March 18, 2014: “The draft report [the “study”] found that the loss of long-term sediment trapping capacity at the Conowingo Dam is causing impacts to the health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.” MDE made this statement in support of its preliminary determination to deny the water quality certification to Exelon (in connection with Exelon’s application for re-licensure of its permit to operate the hydroelectric facility at the dam).
News-Post editors acknowledged that scouring of sediment from the Conowingo reservoir “does negatively affect a small part of the upper bay.” But The News-Post incorrectly minimized the magnitude of this effect. The scouring that accompanies major storm events causes massive and long-lasting pollution damage to the bay. This scouring takes sediment and nutrients from behind the dam and deposits them in the bay on top of oysters and aquatic plant life. This has a major negative effect on the upper and lower bay. These major storm events do major damage to the bay — damage that hurts the health of the bay for years, as it destroys the oyster habitat. Oysters are the best and natural filter for the bay.
News-Post editors quote Alison Prost, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, as supporting the “most cost-effective means of cleaning the bay.” I agree with this approach, but I disagree that either Prost or the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have supported the most cost-effective means of doing this. In fact, many of their proposals are extremely cost-ineffective, including current requirements that the state is proposing to require of Frederick County in the pending stormwater discharge permit.
is a Frederick County Commissioner. He writes from Frederick.