Conowingo licensing must center on water quality, not profits | READER COMMENTARY

By Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper
Published in Baltimore Sun, January 11, 2023

Marylanders know more than anyone that the Chesapeake Bay is reliant on the health of its connecting rivers and surrounding ecosystem. The bay is a vital source of Maryland’s environment, culture and economy; we must continue to protect it. The Baltimore Sun recently published an editorial, “Conowingo: Voided license is water over the dam; let’s float a better deal to cut pollution” (Jan. 3), about the recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision to void the license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to operate the Conowingo Dam.

While it’s true that Pennsylvania is way behind on its goals, a fundamental function of rivers and streams is to transport sediment. This means that regardless of upstream best management practices, the Conowingo Dam’s reservoir or any other dam’s reservoir will eventually fill up over time. Since the construction of the Conowingo Dam in 1928, it has altered the flow and ecology of the Lower Susquehanna River. If you blockade a river system, it’s simple science that there will be negative consequences from its reservoir filling up and the responsibility lies on the dam owner to mitigate that. If Constellation wants to claim their dam serves a best management practice, then they should bear the responsibility in maintaining it.

The editorial mentions a 2017 study that estimated that Constellation Energy could contribute $27 million to $44 million annually for remediation and still make a profit. However, the legal question at hand is not about profits, it’s about clean water access protected under the Clean Water Act. When we consider corporate profits, particularly from a large multibillion-dollar company, against protecting water quality, the latter always loses. If we put water quality, and public health and safety, at the forefront of our priorities, we would have fishable and swimmable waters everywhere.

The actual cost to meaningfully reduce the millions of tons of nutrients and sediment behind the dam — for which Constellation is responsible to mitigate — was estimated to be between $53 million and $300 million per year in the Conowingo Dam Watershed Implementation Plan. Constellation, a private company using our public waterway to make a profit, has an obligation to the people of Maryland who are its customers, to keep our waters clean.

The court’s decision is an opportunity for Maryland to show the nation that it prioritizes its people and clean water over corporate profits. For the sake of our communities across the Chesapeake, let’s make the right choice to protect our waters.

— Ted Evgeniadis, Wrightsville, Pennsylvania

The writer is Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper with the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association.