Tuesday 19 February 2019
Chesapeake Bay TMDL

Chesapeake Bay TMDL (8)

Legislation would hold Exelon financially responsible for reducing pollution (Annapolis, Md.) – Maryland Delegate Jay Jacobs (R-36) joined forces with urban and rural legislators to introduce House Joint Resolution 8 (HJ8) that will hold the Exelon Generation Company, LLC, financially responsible for a portion of the Conowingo Dam’s cleanup costs, as well as at least 25 percent of the costs associated with the Dam’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). Exelon owns and operates the dam, located on the lower Susquehanna River in Maryland, approximately 10 miles north of where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. “This bipartisan legislation presents a common-sense solution to reducing the sediment pollution stored behind the Conowingo Dam,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “The burden for cleaning up pollution behind the Conowingo Dam should not fall solely on Maryland taxpayers. Exelon is a multi-million-dollar corporation and should pay its fair share of the total cleanup costs. We urge the General Assembly to support this resolution to sustain the upkeep of the dam and protect clean water.” To help the state meet its requirements to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 2025, Maryland is including a WIP specifically to address Conowingo Dam for the first time. WIPs document the steps, measures and practices Maryland and its local jurisdictions take to achieve and maintain overall Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals. “As a representative of the Eastern Shore and watermen, my constituents and I are on the front lines of downstream effects of pollution from Conowingo Dam –…
Most people in the Chesapeake Bay region don’t think about the Conowingo Dam, a hydroelectric dam located on the Lower Susquehanna River about 10 miles upstream from where it flows into the Bay. The dam is critically important to the health and ecology – and ultimately the cleanup – of the Chesapeake Bay. Behind the Conowingo Dam, the Susquehanna River flows for 450 miles, carrying with it half of the Chesapeake Bay’s freshwater, 41% of its nitrogen, 25% of its phosphorus, and 27% of its sediment load. Pollutants in the Susquehanna come from wastewater treatment plants, agricultural, urban and suburban runoff, and other sources of pollution throughout the Susquehanna River watershed. Since its construction in 1928, the Conowingo Dam has fundamentally altered the river’s ecology – changing the seasonal river flow, blocking the migration of fish, and trapping nutrients and sediment behind the dam. Today, there are nearly 200 million tons of sediment, nutrients, and other pollutants trapped behind the Conowingo. Scientists estimate that the reservoir behind the Conowingo Dam is almost completely filled. As a result, during major floods caused by large storms, like Hurricane Agnes and Tropical Storm Lee, powerful floodwaters scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that, along with large amounts of trash and other debris, downstream to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2018, the dam’s flood gates were opened several times due to extreme rain falls and flooding, causing tons of debris, sediment and pollution to enter the Bay and clog…
Appeal says certification fails to recognize potential harm to the Chesapeake Bay from sediment stored behind the dam (Baltimore, Md.) – 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. “This is one of the most important decisions in the effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 independent waterkeeper organizations. “We shouldn’t be approving a 50-year license without a solid, accountable plan for removing sediment from behind the dam.” The Conowingo Dam was completed in 1928 and, since that time, it has been trapping sediment and nutrient pollution from the Susquehanna River and its 27,000-square-mile drainage area. Sediment is one of the three key pollutants, along with nitrogen and phosphorus, that is regulated under the federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, known as the TMDL. Scientists have concluded that the reservoir behind the dam is now at capacity and cannot trap any more sediment. After large storms, powerful floodwaters can scoop out or “scour” the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the…

The Conowingo Dam, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River near Havre de Grace, is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation. Exelon uses the dam to generate electricity from the river at a profit. The dam was completed in 1928 and has been trapping sediment and nutrient pollution from the Susquehanna and its 27,000-square-mile drainage area ever since. 

The reservoir behind the dam is now basically at capacity — it cannot trap any more sediment. This is a problem because when it rains, runoff pollution from the largely agricultural area upstream from the dam makes its way into the river and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Even more problematic is the potential for “scour,” where powerful floodwaters can actually scoop out the stored sediment behind the dam and send that downstream to the bay. If not for the Conowingo Dam, this load would have been delivered to the Lower Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay at normal rates.

If a major, catastrophic-level storm happens, this sediment can and will be mobilized and delivered downstream – smothering aquatic grasses that provide food, habitats and oxygen for marine life in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s not a matter of if a major, catastrophic-level storm will happen, but when.

When planning for an emergency, you generally plan for the worst-case scenario. Ships need to carry enough life boats for every passenger, not just a few. Fire regulations call for smoke detectors in every bedroom, not just one per floor. Vehicle safety ratings are tested for full-speed collisions, not just fender-benders. We should expect the same for environmental regulations. Unfortunately, a recent decision by the Maryland Department of the Environment concerning the Conowingo Dam does not follow the same rationale.

Exelon has requested a new 50-year federal license to operate the dam. In order to receive it, the State of Maryland must certify that the dam’s operations will not adversely impact water quality under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Last month, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) announced that it had issued its CWA water quality certification for the Conowingo Dam. The certification acknowledges the impact of the dam on water quality, including the threat posed by the accumulated sediment. And while there are admirable goals, the certification only requires Exelon to adopt a “nutrient corrective action plan” rather than put specific measures in place.

The Clean Water Act requires the dam’s operator to do more than promise to reduce pollution. It requires concrete conditions that will ensure there is no adverse impact to water quality. Governor Hogan and MDE needs to hear from you TODAY.

We cannot afford to give Exelon a new, 50-year license without specific, measurable conditions that ensure its operations do no more harm to the Chesapeake Bay. MDE, under Governor Hogan's leadership, should include a requirement to dredge some portion of the accumulated sediment and nutrient pollution stored behind the dam as a condition of its water quality certification for the new license. We also call upon MDE to properly account for the damaging effects of large storm events during the new license period.

To achieve the best results, we must plan for the worst. The Chesapeake Bay deserves a good emergency plan.

Governor Hogan and MDE needs to hear from you TODAY on this important issue! We can’t wait another 46 years before taking action!

The Conowingo Dam, on the Susquehanna River, has held back sediment and other pollutants for decades, but recent research shows that the Dam reservoir has filled up with sediment and associated nutrients much faster than expected. This enormous artificial repository can be scoured by high flow events, re-mobilized, and delivered downstream by one catastrophic-level storm (think Hurricane Agnes level). If mobilized and delivered downstream, this sediment can and will smother aquatic grasses that provide food, habitats and oxygen for marine life in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s not a matter of if a major, catastrophic-level storm will happen, but when. Recently, the owner and operator of Conowingo Dam – Exelon Corporation – filed an application with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to re-license the Dam for another 46 years. Exelon is required to obtain a 401 Water Quality Certification from MDE, which is a requirement under the Clean Water Act that the Dam will continue to meet the State’s water quality standards. MDE has the opportunity to approve, deny or place “conditions” on the Dam’s license through this process.  On December 5th, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper attended a hearing on this re-licensing and recommended that MDE place conditions on the Dam’s license to ensure that Exelon plays a role in the cleanup efforts around the Dam. Without these necessary conditions, MDE must deny the application outright due to its major deficiencies. Conowingo Dam is a ticking time bomb that requires some major cleanup efforts. The state must…

Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s comments on Virginia’s Draft 2016 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality (IR) highlight the many ways that this report on water quality does not protect local waterways and fails to make plans to improve impaired waterways.

Even after several years, impaired segments of waterways listed as Category 5 have not yet received required Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).  By comparing the 2016 IR and the 2014 IR, it becomes clear that many waterways listed as “Category 5” in 2014 have not yet received a TMDL. According to the Clean Water Act §303 (d)(1), every state must identify impaired waters, rank those waters in terms of severity of pollution, and assign TMDLs to those waters in accordance with the priority ranking. As Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is well aware, when a waterway is listed as a Category 5 it means that the body of water is impaired, or does not attain water quality standards and needs a TMDL; this is the classic list of Section 303 (d) waters. It’s unclear why these waterways have not received a TMDL over the years. A long list of waterways in Virginia’s Potomac and Shenandoah River basins have not received a TMDL for over nine years now, despite being listed as a Category 5.

There is little to no justification for why these impaired waterways have not yet received a TMDL over the years, some of which have been listed for over a decade. Further, some of the justifications in the notes section of the 2016 IR are exactly the same as the 2014 IR. Solely by looking at parts of the James River and Potomac Rivers, which have not received a TMDL, it becomes clear that there were absolutely no changes from the 2014 IR to the 2016 IR in terms of associated notes for PCBs in fish and public water supplies, E. Coli in recreational waters, pH issues impairing aquatic life, among other issues that cause environmental harm and public health concerns. This is the same for many other waterways. It is important that DEQ assign TMDLs to these waterways to ensure that water quality standards are being attained and that Virginia’s anti-degradation policy is being followed. 

Impaired segments covered by the Chesapeake Bay TMDL still require local TMDLs. DEQ should reverse its decision to remove hundreds of impaired segments of waterways from Virginia’s Category 5 list of impaired waters due to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL in the 2012 IR, 2014 IR, and 2016 draft IR. Many of the water segments removed from the Category 5 list of impaired waters needing a TMDL and placed on the Category 4a list only had conclusive statements about their reasons for removal. For instance, in the 2016 IR, for a segment of the James River that was partially delisted, there is a lack of clear explanation for why the segment was delisted along with, “The Chesapeake Bay TMDL was approved by the EPA on 12/29/2010; therefore, it will be considered Category 2C.” Under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, the EPA stated that “in some cases, the reductions required to meet local conditions shown in existing TMDLs may be more stringent than those needed to meet Bay Requirements.” A local TMDL is needed for many of the water segments listed in Category 4a because the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is not localized to address specific needs of certain waterways and, in many cases, is less stringent than those DEQ previously determined.

DEQ has failed to gain any new information on many waterways listed as Category 3 over the years. Many waterways listed as Category 3 have been listed as such for many years now, with no progress made on obtaining any new information to decide whether water quality standards are being met. Even Category 3b waterways have not been reassessed. According to the 2016 IR, Category 3b listings mean that “some data exists but it is insufficient to determine support of any designated uses. Such waters will be prioritized for follow up monitoring.” It is important that DEQ gather more information on these waterways and work with local water quality organizations to ensure that water quality standards are being attained and that Virginia’s anti-degradation policy is being followed.

DEQ should make clearer any designation changes from previous IRs for increased public participation and awareness. In order to assess any changes to designations from previous reports, DEQ should simply add a column to the Appendix 1 Integrated List of All Waters in Virginia that includes the waterway’s designation from the prior report. This would make it easier for the public to see whether there have been any changes, improvements, degradations, or assigned TMDLs over the prior two years. This information is essential not only for transparency, but will allow citizens and water quality organizations to more easily assess whether water quality standards are being attained in their watersheds.


Blog published by Waterkeeper Alliance, March 17, 2017, written by Mitchelle Stephenson, Waterkeepers Chesapeake

We asked our 19 Waterkeepers, who know their watersheds better than anyone, their greatest fears about Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. With Pruitt’s history of climate change denial and his close ties to the oil and gas industry, there are serious concerns.

1. Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips: The multi-billion dollar coastal resort and fishing economies of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia depend on clean water and healthy fish populations. These coastal resorts drive a $1.5 Billion economic engine for the state of Maryland alone. Expanding offshore fossil fuel extraction and permitting seismic blasting will leave our ocean beaches polluted and our coastal fisheries destroyed.  It is not worth the potential loss.

2. Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Carol Parenzan: The impacts of energy exploration, extraction,delivery, consumption, and exportation are important to residents in central Pennsylvania. Fracking, hazardous chemicals in the river and most recently, oil spills from crumbling infrastructure threaten fisheries, habitat and drinking water. The Susquehanna River needs stronger oversight, not lax federal regulations that favor the oil and gas industry.

3. Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Angela Haren: Stormwater runoff, sewage overflows, trash clogging up our waters – the Baltimore Harbor faces many serious threats. But we know how to meet those challenges – we have the tools; it’s not a mystery. We can clean up our Harbor and its tributaries. We just need the budget and personnel. That’s what makes this even more devastating. The savage cuts we expect to see under Pruitt’s EPA will make this vital work so much harder, and threaten all the progress we’ve made.

4. Miles/Wye Riverkeeper Jeff Horstman: The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or “pollution diet” that aims to keep pollutants out of the Chesapeake Bay was a target of Scott Pruitt when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma. Now that he heads the EPA, our concern is that he won’t sue to overturn the TMDL, he’ll simply unravel it — giving polluters a green light to destroy the United States’ largest estuary and its already-imperiled tributaries.

5. Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf: The Shenandoah is known as a great recreational river in one of the prettiest natural places in America. Alongside the river, people camp and hike. In the river, they tube, kayak, canoe, and fly fish. I monitor nutrient pollution and runoff that can drive algae blooms and fish kills. However, if we don’t stop those nutrients from coming into the river from the land, there isn’t a whole lot we can do to save the river and the fish once it gets to the water. We need the EPA to hold the state accountable.

6. Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls: We have legacy energy issues, like acid drainage from abandoned mining operations, heated water coming directly into the river from paper manufacturing, and agricultural runoff from farming operations. The Upper Potomac is in a multi-state area (West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland). A strong federal entity could arbitrate across jurisdictional boundaries. That’s not likely to happen in a Pruitt EPA.

7. Lower James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow: The James River was the site of European settlements as early as 1571. At the time, Native Americans called it the Powhatan, but English colonists renamed it James after King James I when they established the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Today, those colonists would barely recognize the place. Fish have been cut off from spawning grounds, toxic coal ash leaches into the river, seeps into drinking water supplies and percolates to groundwater. Power plants and industrial operation intakes suck up spawning fish, making it near impossible for restored fisheries that are either threatened or endangered. We need the EPA to not backtrack on coal ash regulations that took years of compromise to finalize.

8. Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks: The Potomac River feeds into the Chesapeake Bay about 75 miles north of where the Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. At that location, it is 11 miles wide. Upstream, the Potomac is the closest river in proximity to the headquarters of the EPA. Administrator Scott Pruitt should be aware that the Potomac faces threats from sewage overflows, stormwater runoff, coal ash pollution (remember hexavalent chromium from Julia Roberts as Erin Brochovich? The same stuff is in the Potomac, the river most closely associated with the nation’s capital). The EPA needs to strengthen the regulation of toxic compounds — not weaken them.

9. Anacostia Riverkeeper Emily Franc: There might not be a river that has come so far in such a short period of time. Although it still has an annual inflow of two billion gallons of sewage plus stormwater, there are signs that fish, birds and aquatic habitats are rebounding. The river itself is pretty short. It starts in Maryland, is under 9 miles long, and all fits snugly inside the Washington, DC Beltway. Anacostia fish, covered with toxic lesions from industrial pollutants may be poisonous to eat, but are frequently consumed by the river’s 17,000 subsistence anglers, mostly poor residents of the District of Columbia.

10. Sassafras Riverkeeper Emmett Duke: The watersheds of the upper Chesapeake Bay are making progress. We worry that a Pruitt EPA will take us back to an era where the loudest voices were the polluters with the most money.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake are doing their best to monitor their rivers and make the waters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed swimmable, fishable and drinkable. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Scott Pruitt during his tenure at EPA — and keeping him accountable. We hope you will be too.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cuts proposed by the Trump Administration have been released, and according to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies release of the information, the EPA would cut the workforce by 3,000 employees and the overall budget by $2 billion. Below is the list of agency programs and proposed reductions. 

Tell your members of the United States Congress that you oppose these cuts. Take the action to send a letter right now. 

All figures in millions of dollars. 

Program 2016 2018 Change
SF Bay (EPA) 4.8 0 -100%
Great Lakes restoration (EPA) 300 10 -97%
Endocrine disruptors (EPA) 7.5 0.445 -94%
Enviro education (EPA) 8.7 0.555 -94%
Chesapeake Bay (EPA) 73 5 -93%
Puget Sound (EPA) 28 2 -93%
US Mexico border (EPA) 3 0.275 -91%
Radon (EPA) 2.9 0.505 -83%
Gulf of Mexico (EPA) 4.5 1 -78%
Environmental justice (EPA) 6.7 1.5 -78%
Small minority business assistance (EPA) 1.7 0.4 -76%
Climate protection (EPA) 95 29 -69%
Research – air climate energy (EPA) 92 46 -50%
Sustainable and Healthy Communities (EPA) 140 76 -46%
Brownfields (EPA) 25 14 -44%
Safe & sustainable water resources (EPA) 107 70 -35%
Research – chem safety & sustainability (EPA) 89 62 -30%
Lead RRP (EPA) 13.3 9.4 -29%
Leaking underground storage tanks (EPA) 11.3 8 -29%
Right to Know (TRI) (EPA) 13.9 10.7 -23%
Tribal capacity building (EPA) 14.4 11.8 -18%
Marine Pollution (EPA) 10.1 8.6 -15%
Compliance monitoring (EPA) 101 88 -13%
Civil Enforcement (EPA) 171 153 -11%
Diesel emissions reduction act (state grants) 50 0 -100%
Multipurpose grants (state grants) 21 0 -100%
Targeted airsheds (state grants) 20 0 -100%
US-Mexico border targeted watershed (state grants) 10 0 -100%
Beach water quality testing (state grants) 9.5 0 -100%
Radon (state grants) 8 0 -100%
Brownfields (state grants) 48 33 -31%
Tribes – air quality management (state grants) 12.9 8.9 -31%
Pesticides implementation (state grants) 12.7 8.8 -31%
Toxic substances compliance (state grants) 4.9 3.4 -31%
Wetlands (state grants) 14.7 10.2 -31%
Underground injection (state grants) 10.5 7.3 -30%
Drinking water grants (state grants) 102 71 -30%
Nonpoint source pollution (state grants) 165 115 -30%
Air quality grants (state grants) 228 159 -30%
Water pollution control (state grants) 230 161 -30%
Lead (state grants) 14 9.8 -30%
Tribal general assistance program (state grants) 65 46 -29%


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