Counties Urge Conowingo Cleanup Before Certification

On February 27th, Les Knapp testified in front of the Environment and Transportation Committee in support of HB 921 Environment – Conowingo Dam – Water Quality Certification.

This bill is an emergency bill that would codify reasonable trash and debris cleaning requirements proposed by MDE for the Conowingo Dam. These provisions, which would become part of MDE’s Water Quality Certification, are an important component of ongoing Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. The certification is necessary for the dam’s owner, Exelon Corporation, to have the dam relicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

From the MACo Testimony:

The bill’s provisions would require Exelon to: (1) remove floating trash and debris from the Conowingo Reservoir at least 40 times each year; (2) use a self-propelled skimmer barge to remove trash from the reservoir daily; (3) sponsor at least two annual community-based cleanups of the reservoir each year; and (4) conduct a feasibility study on using water wheel trash interceptors in the reservoir.

While much focus has been given to the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment coming through the Conowingo Dam, significant amounts of debris and trash also pass through its reservoir. Harbors as far south as Annapolis were flooded with debris from the dam last summer after heavy rains forced Exelon to open the dam’s floodgates and clean-up efforts continued through December. Such debris not only poses a hazard to water navigation but can also clog shoreline and stream restoration projects and scour recovering Bay grasses.

While MDE has included the bill’s provisions as part of its certification requirements, Exelon has launched both administrative and judicial challenges. The bill would provide a statutory backstop to resist Exelon’s challenges and compel Exelon’s reasonable participation in Bay restoration efforts.

For more on 2019 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.