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Hydroelectric Dams, Relicensing & Migratory Fish

What is hydroelectric power?

Hydroelectricity is the term referring to electricity generated by hydropower; the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. It is the most widely used form of renewable energy.

Susquehanna River Hydropower

The Susquehanna River has a collection of dams. These dams are used for power generation, flood control, navigation and recreation. These dams have local and regional environmental impacts on the river and the Chesapeake Bay, both positive and negative. On the Lower Susquehanna River there are the following hydropower facilities:

  • Shamokin Dam
  • York Haven Dam
  • Safe Harbor Dam
  • Holtwood Dam
  • Muddy Run Pump Storage Facility (draws from and flows into the Conowingo Reservoir to create off-peak power)
  • Conowingo Dam

Permitting & Water Quality Certification

Hydroelectric facilities possess licenses, or permits, that run anywhere from 30 to 50 years. The majority of hydroelectric facilities on the Lower Susquehanna are currently at some point in a 5-year relicensing process managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). These relicensing processes are important because they represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure water quality, fish passage and other important environmental standards are written into these facilities operational permits.

The major Federal licenses and permits subject to Section 401 are Section 402 and 404 permits (in nondelegated States), FERC hydropower licenses, and Rivers and Harbors Act Section 9 and 10 permits. States and Tribes make their decisions to deny, certify, or condition permits or licenses primarily by ensuring the activity will comply with State water quality standards. In addition, States and Tribes look at whether the activity will violate effluent limitations, new source performance standards, toxic pollutants, and other water resource requirements of State/Tribal law or regulation.

In addition to FERC approval of license renewals, the State in which the project is located must concurrently perform a Section 401 Certification pursuant to the Federal Clean Water Act. Under Section 401, States and Tribes can review and approve, condition, or deny all Federal permits or licenses that might result in a discharge to State or Tribal waters, including wetlands.

For the Conowingo hydroelectric facility – which is currently undergoing relicensing – the State of Maryland possesses authority to grant, waive or deny §401 water quality certification. We are working to provide Maryland’s Dept. of the Environment with up-to-date data concerning water quality standards and designated uses concerning sediment retention and eel passage that will help the State in requiring appropriate standards and sureties from Conowingo’s owners (Exelon Corp) prior to allowing continued operation.

Eel Caught@Conowingo Dam 7-21-07

American Eel

What the heck is the American Eel? Freshwater eels are the only catadromous fishes in North America. Catadromous means that they spawn in salt water and live as adults in fresh water. Anadromous fishes, like salmon and American shad, spawn in fresh water but live as adults in the ocean. On this continent, eels are …

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Conowingo Dam & Sediment Trapping & Scouring

Spring 2011: The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper (LSR) and Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna (SOLS) continue participation in the second year of a five year process concerning licensure renewal for the Conowingo Dam and Muddy Run Pump Storage facility. These facilities’ licenses will expire in August 2014, thus the current 5-year re-licensing process. Problems Our primary …

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Holtwood Dam

Lower Susquehanna RIVERKEEPER® submitted comments to the PPL draft Amendment Agreement with FERC during the initial scoping process for relicensing the Holtwood hydroelectric facility. Our main points of concern remain eel passage, standards and timing for lowering lake level, and the lowhead dam. However, the latter two concerns were removed from future consideration and action …

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