Recent scientific studies show that sediment backed up behind the Conowingo Dam is not as big a threat as previously thought. During a big storm, 80 percent of the sediment that comes through the dam is from upriver, while 20 percent is the mud scoured from the area behind the dam, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What that means is the bigger threat to the Chesapeake Bay remains what it always has been: pollution that enters the Susquehanna River and all other tributaries from farms, cities and suburbs.
Don Boesch, president of the university’s Center for Environmental Science, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in May about the additional sediment coming over the dam.
“The increased loads have a relatively modest effect on dissolved oxygen in deeper waters near Kent Island, with little or no effects on water quality over vast portions of the estuary, including the larger tributary subestuaries, such as the Choptank and Patuxent rivers. Impaired conditions in the tributaries, including not only water quality but also harmful algal blooms and fish kills, are much more determined by reductions of nutrient pollution loads within their watersheds.”
It’s important to keep our eye on the biggest problem: the source of pollution. We need to address the sediment buildup at the dam, but not as a substitute for the hard work in our own backyards to reduce the overload of nutrients and sediments that foul the bay and threaten crabs and other marine life.
The state General Assembly and this state’s next governor, therefore, should be pushed to do just that. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently issued a list of critical actions state leaders must take in the next four years to finish the job of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Those actions include reducing the amount of pollution from manure that reaches creeks and rivers, tightening enforcement efforts of environmental laws and stopping raids to environmental funds. The foundation is urging its members and the public to consider gubernatorial and legislative candidates’ positions on these issues when voting.
The university also should be aware that in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency put the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Washington on what the agency called a “pollution diet.” The jurisdictions all agreed to abide by this diet and to design and implement plans to do so. The foundation calls this initiative the Clean Water Blueprint. It is a national model for restoring a multistate water system. It holds all jurisdictions accountable for progress. It will make the bay swimmable and fishable once again. The foundation was a leader in the initiative, suing the EPA to force the “diet” and subsequently pushing and helping jurisdictions to meet their pollution limits.
Meeting their responsibilities under the blueprint should remain the focus of leaders in this state and other jurisdictions. Pennsylvania leaders must do their share to reduce pollution entering the Susquehanna and ultimately reaching the Conowingo Dam. Other states and local jurisdictions must do their part to reduce pollution entering their local waters. This comprehensive approach offers the best hope not only for crabs, oysters and other marine life, but also for our children and grandchildren. They shouldn’t have to swim or frolic in polluted water.
Alison Prost is the state executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a 2004 alumna of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She can be reached at email@example.com.