Exelon Disregards Conowingo Dam License Conditions, Endangers Migratory Fish Populations

Exelon, owner of the Conowingo Dam, while seeking a 50-year federal license renewal, blatantly disregarded conditions of its current license that requires the company to operate a fish ladder to allow migratory fish to spawn upriver. Using the pandemic as an excuse, Exelon notified FERC it would not operate the fish ladder this spring during the height of spawning season for American shad and herring. After learning about Exelon’s decision, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper immediately alerted the press, which led Exelon to pivot and announce that they would resume lift operations by May 7. On May 27, Exelon shut down the fish lift once again due to the presence of the invasive northern snakeheads from Asia. Unfortunately, the combination of Exelon’s nearly two months of inoperation and second shutdown of the fish elevator has done significant damage to the American shad and river herring populations, which were unable to swim up the Susquehanna River to spawn. Only 485 American shad were able to make it over Conowingo’s fish elevator, which is barely 10% of the 4,787 shad that made it over the lift by this time last year. Delaying and then halting this migration has setback the progress we have been making in restoring these fish populations from historic low levels. 

Exelon’s decision not to operate the fish lift will have a lasting effect on our ecosystem and make it much more difficult for us to restore these fish populations. This is yet another example of Exelon trying to avoid their fair share of responsibilities for operating Conowingo Dam. By failing to run the fish lifts, Exelon was not only putting our fisheries in danger, but it was also actively violating an obligation of their federal license through FERC to operate Conowingo Dam.

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis sent a letter to Governor Hogan signed by two watermen associations representing hundreds of commercial operations plus three charter operations seeking once again that the governor withdrawal its extremely inadequate settlement agreement with Exelon. This agreement is still awaiting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval. Governor Hogan has ignored legitimate opportunities like renegotiating the settlement agreement, pursuing litigation, or recapturing the dam under the Federal Power Act to protect the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. Governor Hogan is wasting this once in a lifetime opportunity to get a fair deal with Exelon and protect our public resources for generations to come. The settlement provides grossly insufficient funds to deal with the risks that Conowingo operations pose to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. It includes statements of intent without assurances and gives the public no enforcement power to make sure the terms of the settlement are fulfilled. There are not enough protections in the settlement to grant Exelon full control of this Dam for the next 50 years. We’re asking the public to send letters to Governor Hogan in one more attempt to avoid legal action.

As we await FERC’s decision, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper will continue monitoring Exelon’s activities at Conowingo Dam and begin preparing ourselves to enter into the next phase of this effort. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper worked hard to prevent this issue from going to litigation. Unfortunately, it could be our only option for ensuring Exelon does not get away with avoiding accountability for the impacts caused by operating Conowingo Dam.

We need your help to be successful in the next stage in the legal fight on the Conowingo Dam. To prepare the most effective case, Waterkeepers Chesapeake needs to raise at least $10,000 by September 30.