Conowingo Settlement Targets Bay Cleanup, Clears Way For Licensing

The State of Maryland and Exelon, owners of the Conowingo Dam, have reached a $200 million settlement agreement detailing water cleanup obligations for the power facility on the Susquehanna River, a major Chesapeake Bay tributary.

1280px-Conowingo_Dam_2016The Conowingo Dam, whose federal license is up for renewal before the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, has been seeking its clearance for that approval – including a state-level sign-off for years. The $200 million settlement announced today presumably clears the path for at least that part of the process ahead.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

The Conowingo and Susquehanna are a pressing concern for environmentalists because the river provides most of the fresh water in Maryland’s portions of the bay, and also carries massive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution that foul Chesapeake ecosystems.

Hogan administration officials said the agreement would do much to address that problem.

“This agreement charts a bold course for clean water and climate resiliency in the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay,” state Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a statement.

Exelon, a Chicago-based energy company, offered a statement through its website:

Today, Exelon Generation announced that it has reached an historic settlement agreement with the State of Maryland that will protect the long-term health of the Chesapeake Bay and preserve Maryland’s largest source of renewable energy, the Conowingo Dam. The benefits to Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are valued at more than $200 million over the anticipated 50-year life of the license, which will be funded from the dam’s earnings over that time period.

More details about the settlement are available on the Exelon website.

Counties in the Bay watershed are affected by the water quality issues from the Dam, including their role in addressing the “impaired waterway” status of the Bay itself. Each county currently operated under a Watershed Improvement Plan to help promote the state’s Total Maximum Daily Load “pollution diet” of nutrients and sediment.

The counties forming the Clean Chesapeake Coalition have long argued for leveraging the Dam licensing as a means to address downstream pollution issues from the Susquehanna and into the northern parts of the Bay. From their website:

Exelon, current owner of the Dam, is in the process of seeking a new, 46-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and, as part of that process, Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act requires that the state of Maryland issue a Water Quality Certification (WQC) for the Dam. On April 27th of this year, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) did indeed issue the WQC, with special conditions – conditions that Exelon is now suing Maryland over in two courts and administratively. Exelon maintains that the Dam is not a source of pollution and that the conditions imposed by the State are impracticable and illegal.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition will meet at MACo’s Winter Conference on Wednesday, December 4, from 4:30 pm- 5:30 pm. The conference covers many topics of interest to local governments, including several on energy and environmental issues. View the brochure for more details.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:


Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties