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 longer required? For the sake of the Susquehanna River’s health, I sure hope not.

Betsy Nicholas, Takoma Park

The writer is executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

Baltimore Sun, August 20, 2015, LTE: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-conowingo-letter-20150818-story.html

More info on Conowingo Dam at www.ConowingoDam.org