Sunday 19 May 2019

Conowingo Dam (18)

The Conowingo Dam is owned and operated by Exelon Generation Company, LLC and its current license expired in 2014. Exelon is seeking a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the State of Maryland must issue a Water Quality Certification, certifying that the project will meet state water quality standards before FERC can grant a new license.

The State of Maryland issued its Water Quality Certification on April 27, 2018, and Exelon sued the State on May 25 in federal district court, challenging the state’s authority to require any pollution reduction from upstream sources. On July 20, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, represented by Earthjustice, filed a motion to intervene in a federal court action regarding the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam, supporting the State’s authority under the Clean Water Act.

In addition, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association filed an administrative appeal on June 8, 2018, urging the Maryland Department of the Environment to reconsider its recent water quality certification for the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation. Exelon has requested a new 50-year federal license to operate the dam, and, in order to receive that license, the State of Maryland must certify that the dam’s operations will not adversely impact water quality under the Clean Water Act.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake has been working with Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and Earthjustice since 2014 to hold Exelon accountable for its fair share of the dam cleanup.

“This is our only opportunity in the next 50 years to get meaningful pollution reductions at Conowingo Dam – we have to hold Exelon accountable for its fair share of the cleanup,” -- Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeepers Chesapeake Executive Director. 

About the Conowingo Dam

Conowingo Dam is a hydroelectric dam that has been trapping sediment from the Susquehanna River, blocking fish passage, and affecting the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay since it was built in 1928. Nearly 200 million tons of sediment pollution have accumulated behind the dam. During major floods caused by large storms, powerful floodwaters can scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. More info at



WATERKEEPERS CHESAPEAKE MEDIA STATEMENT Susquehanna River Named #3 in Top Ten Most Impaired Rivers in America American Rivers Report says River Further Imperiled by North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015 American Rivers recently included the Susquehanna River on the list of its Top 10 “At Risk” rivers in America. The number three ranking of the Susquehanna comes as no surprise to Waterkeepers Chesapeake and our Susquehanna Riverkeepers, who have been working on issues of water quality in this watershed for over a decade. The river suffers from multiple impairments over its 464 miles (from New York to Pennsylvania to Maryland). There is stormwater runoff with associated agricultural and urban pollution, unmanaged industrial contamination as well as nutrient and sediment impairments from the Conowingo hydroelectric dam that operates near the town of Conwingo, Maryland. Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said that Riverkeepers who monitor water quality throughout this watershed have been ringing the alarm bells for years. “There are a lot of problems with the Susquehanna, the source of half the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The health of this river is critically important to our region,” Nicholas said. “A bill currently working its way through Congress would compound this watershed’s problems by ceding control of Conowingo Dam to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], a federal regulatory body that has shown little concern for protecting water quality, but key attentiveness to the interests of energy companies. Particularly in this case, states should get a say.”…

LTE: Conowingo Dam Needs Better Fish Ladder

According to its mission statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exists to "conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people." I am grateful to this federal agency for pushing Exelon Corporation to make significant improvements to the Conowingo Dam to facilitate fish-passage. ("Conowingo Dam fish-lift overhaul urged to restore Susquehanna's shad, eels," Aug. 12). The dam has been blocking fish and eels from reaching the upper Susquehanna River since its construction in 1928. Today, 87 years later, we have a much better understanding of how important shad, river herring and eels are to our natural environment. Exelon makes a healthy profit from operating Conowingo and is seeking a new license to continue doing so. Now is the time to insist that Exelon bring its dam up to modern environmental standards and help restore the fisheries that its dam has harmed. Even as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks badly-needed improvements to Conowingo's failing fish passage system, the hydropower industry is working in Congress to strip the agency's authority. The so-called Hydropower Improvement Act of 2015 would give the final say to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an energy-permitting agency that often undermines agencies' attempts to improve fish passage, water quality and other environmental protections at hydropower dams. As the industry lobbies Congress for a free pass on fish passage, could Exelon be trying to delay its own fish passage obligations until a time when they are no…
Lots of people are talking about the Conowingo Dam lately. Political rhetoric and misinformation is flowing faster than the Susquehanna River in flood stage. Our coalition has developed a new website to share the facts about the Susquehanna River, the Conowingo Dam, and the federal relicensing process currently under way. Please visit -- your new credible source for information on this important issue.   Our coalition is Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and American Rivers. Let us know if you would like to join this effort. Contact chris(at)