Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Exelon Corporation’s Conowingo relicensing for the next 50 years. This license will include the extremely flawed 2019 settlement agreement between the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and Exelon, owner of the dam. In the agreement, the State of Maryland waives its authority under the Clean Water Act to require a Water Quality Certification for the relicensing of Conowingo Dam. This certification was the only hope for the State of Maryland to make sure Exelon paid its fair share over the next 50 YEARS![Read more…] about Conowingo Dam relicensed by FERC, Exelon Let Off The Hook
In the News
Originally published on Waterkeepers Chesapeake Journal
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 address two separate problems – the sediment that is trapped in the Dam’s reservoir and the sediment now flowing through the Dam due to the Dam’s inability to trap any more sediment. This will require dredging the trapped sediment, a suite of upstream best management practices to minimize the sediment flowing through the dam, and resiliency measures downstream to ameliorate the effects of a sediment scour event – like a major storm.
We recommend that MDE require a myriad of cleanup actions as a condition on the license in order to address the complex problem that is Conowingo Dam. One type of cleanup effort alone will not be enough. For instance, while best management practices (BMPs) upstream can and should be a part of the cleanup efforts, previous studies have shown that if every single upstream BMP were instituted, they would only address about 15-20% of the sediment flow coming downstream and through the dam. Unfortunately, these practices would also do nothing to ameliorate the risk of the trapped sediment behind the Dam from releasing during a catastrophic storm.
There is an obligation, not only under the state’s 401 Water Quality Certification, but under the Federal Power Act to address water quality improvements and ensure public benefits, like access and public recreation, which will be impacted if not addressed through this license.
Over the next 46 years, Exelon will bring in billions in revenue for the operation of this Dam, and the Federal Power Act requires a public benefit for using the public resource of the Susquehanna River. Exelon may not continue to profit from this public resource without remediating all of the environmental problems the Dam has created.
If Maryland doesn’t deal with the trapped sediment behind the dam, all of our efforts to clean up the bay and meet the state’s 2025 Total Maximum Daily Load (TDML) goals will be devastated by one major storm. Maryland cannot wait to start these cleanup efforts – Maryland must partner with Exelon and other stakeholders and start the process now.
Ask MDE to ensure that Exelon plays a role in waterway cleanup efforts during the re-licensing of Conowingo Dam. We can’t wait another 46 years before taking action!
The public has until January 15, 2018 to submit written comments to MDE on the re-licensing of Conowingo Dam.
Originally ran in Bay Journal
The Lower Susquehanna River is getting a new watchdog. Michael Helfrich, the first Riverkeeper for the bottom half of the Chesapeake Bay’s largest tributary, is leaving after 12 years, to pursue a career in politics.
Already a part-time York, PA, city councilman and president of the five-member municipal governing body, Helfrich is vacating his full-time Riverkeeper post on April 1 to run for mayor of his hometown.
“After nearly 12 years of having my focus and energy spread out over 9,215 square miles of Lower Susquehanna issues — and issues of the Chesapeake Bay — I’m now going to focus my energy on the 5.2 square miles of York City,” Helfrich said.
Helfrich, 47, wouldn’t identify his successor until the Riverkeeper board of directors signs off on a work contract. But a photograph posted on his Facebook page from his going-away party in late March shows Helfrich exchanging chugs from a jug of Susquehanna River water with Ted Evgeniadis, current treasurer of the organization, avid fisherman and a veteran of many watershed improvement activities.
“The way this is going to go is, he’s passing me the torch,” Evgeniadis said. “And I’m going to run with it to support all of the efforts and accomplishments that Mike has made over the past 12 years.” Evgeniadis and Helfrich have worked together on water quality issues in York since 2011.
Helfrich founded the Codorus Creek Improvement Partnership in 2001. It organized citizens around a section of the creek, once known as the Inky Stinky, which flows through the community of nearly 44,000 people, according to the 2010 Census.
During the organization’s first three years, volunteers and partners formed waterway pollution patrols, removed more than 150 tons of trash from the creek, and brought attention — and legal actions — against polluters. The Codorus does not stink as much anymore, partially as a result of a 2001 settlement of a lawsuit filed by York city residents against P.H. Glatfelter Co. to clean up effluent from one its paper mills upstream from the city. Following the lawsuit, Helfrich worked with Glatfelter on Codorus Creek improvement projects.
In 2005, Helfrich set his sights on bigger waters — the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay — when he founded Stewards of the Susquehanna and became a licensed Riverkeeper. Since then, he’s spent countless hours surveying the river from the back roads of south central Pennsylvania or paddling in it and its tributaries. When not in his clunky Subaru station wagon or his kayak, Helfrich was in Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., lobbying someone to do something or in countless policy meetings with state officials. Depending on a person’s position, Helfrich was seen as either an annoyance or a strong voice at these meetings. Either way, he was always a gadfly.
“The work of a Riverkeeper is not for the faint of heart,” Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said. “The hours are long, the work is endless, and there is strife and conflict at many turns. Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Michael Helfrich has been fighting for his river for twelve years — and has pushed back against a host of different pollution sources.”
Sometimes the struggle brings results. Helfrich joined other groups pressuring a local utility and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to investigate thermal pollution from an electric utility linked to several large fish kills in 2006. After a lengthy process and pressure, PPL Electric Utilities agreed to invest $120 million in upgrades to the Brunner Island steam electricity plant on the Susquehanna between York and Lancaster counties. The utility constructed structures that lower the temperature of water used to cool equipment in the plant, before releasing it into the Susquehanna. The project reduces the temperature spike in the river caused by the 600-million-gallon daily discharge, and eases the thermal shock experienced by fish in the area.
The upgrade of Brunner Island is one of two accomplishments of which Helfrich is most proud. The second, albeit not as neatly resolved, involves addressing the millions of tons of sediment trapped behind Conowingo Dam.
Responding to concerns raised by him and others, a multi-year, federal and state study has documented that the dam is at capacity for storage of the nutrient–laden sediment, and that it could have impacts on restoring water quality in the upper Bay. But there’s no agreement yet on how — or even whether — to deal with it. Some are pushing for dredging and removing the sediment, while others argue that the long-term solutions lies in curtailing the runoff of sediment and nutrients upriver in the Susquehanna’s watershed.
Helfrich isn’t done with river keeping completely. If his mayoral bid is successful, he won’t start his new job until January 2018. He is committed to another nine months of mentoring Evgeniadis and keeping an eye on the watershed.
“We worked hard with (the U.S. Geological Survey) and others to get Conowingo on the map,” Helfrich said. “Eleven years later, and we still don’t know what to do. I’m going to stick around for a while and help the new Riverkeeper keep Conowingo on the radar.”
(This post originally mischaracterized the role that the Codorus Creek partnership played in dealings with Glatfelter. It also misstated how long Helfrich and his successor have worked together. The Bay Journal regrets the errors.)
Originally run on YDR:
Say goodbye to fishing at Brunner Island. Talen Energy, which owns and operates the power plant that burns coal and natural gas on the island in the Susquehanna River, has barred fishing, boating and hiking on its land.
According to Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis, Talen closed a boat launch off Wago Road, the wetlands area surrounding the plant and a fishing access site directly at the discharge from the plant.
The news came as a surprise to Evgeniadis and to state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, whose district includes the plant.
“I got a letter maybe a week or 10 days before they did this,” Gillespie said. “I reached out to the plant manager and other officials associated with that. They were firm in their mission to close.”
Gillespie called the island a “destination” because of warm-water discharge that attracts fish – and anglers. The closure affects anglers and boaters. It might also affect local businesses. Evgeniadis said there’s a bait shop, a boating guide service and other businesses that might be hurt economically.
Chuck Landis of Landisville works at Susquehanna Fishing Tackle in Columbia. He liked fishing at Brunner Island in the wintertime because the warm water prevented ice. He was planning on fishing there again this winter when he heard from people at the shop that Talen was considering closing the area. Later, he got word that it officially closed.
“I was really surprised and disappointed because that’s a really popular area,” he said.
In an email to the YDR on Dec. 28, Talen Media Relations Manager Todd Martin said the company closed access because they “are operating an active power plant.”
“All of our employees are focused on the safe, efficient operation of the plant and we do not have personnel available to operate a public access program,” he wrote. “Additionally, there are safety and liability concerns including; stolen and damaged property, vandalism and inappropriate (sometimes illegal) activities on private property.”
Gillespie said he’s heard of people dumping trash and drinking in a wetlands area across the road from the plant. However, he said he was “disappointed” that Talen didn’t explore other options such as patrol guards or cameras. He said he at least hoped for a town meeting or some sort of community interaction.
“Once a year they have a community meeting,” he said. “I will be sure to attend that next one and express my extreme displeasure.”
This isn’t the first time Talen has closed land to the public.
In April 2016, the company closed Holtwood Park in Lancaster County — including popular hiking spot Kelly’s Run. The park, owned by Talen at the time, was close to its Holtwood Dam hydroelectric plant.