State Sen. E.J. Pipkin and other members of the Eastern Shore delegation want action to improve the Conowingo Dam sediment problem. They expressed disappointment Friday at the Shore delegation meeting with state officials.
"There's been a lot of studies, a lot of meeting, but not a lot of actions," said Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore, said to Maryland Secretary of the Environment Robert Summers and Assistant Secretary for the Department of Natural Resources Frank Dawson.
The Susquehanna River dam opened in 1928. Summers said scientists have been aware of the sediment buildup behind it since at least 1972, which was the year Hurricane Agnes hit. Every time the dam's floodgates open, sediment from behind the dam flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
Pipkin questioned whether Pennsylvania is putting as much effort into the sediment problem as Maryland.
Summers said the MDE has reached out to Pennsylvania, and there's a meeting in the spring to focus on issues like sediment.He said the situation has been a concern and has been studied for quite some time.
He said a major task force to focus on the dam was formed in 2002.
Pipkin said since 1990, sediment levels in the Conowingo have gone up 250 percent, phosphorus has increased by 70 percent and nitrogen also has increased.
Currently, Summers said, there's a $1.38 million study being conducted, with $344,000 coming from state sources. Since there have been problems getting federal funding to match state funding for the study, Exelon, an energy corporation that's trying to get a 46-year license to operate the Conowingo Dam, provided funding for the study to progress, he said.
The study concludes in 2014. Scientists are looking at inflowing and outflowing sediment and how management measures will improve conditions in the Bay.Summers said the point of all the studies is to figure out the best way to clean up pollution in the dam, but Pipkin expressed concern that the studies have been going on for years and nobody is putting any plan into action.
As Pipkin urged Summers and Dawson to make moves to clean up pollution in the dam, he asked Summers how much money it was going to cost to implement a plan.
"You want us to keep telling our citizens to pay up the taxes. If you don't fix up the Conowingo, you're tossing the money into the Bay," Pipkin said.
Summers said implementing an action plan might cost between $14 and $17 billion, and they have until 2025 to clean up the water, which is when the Environmental Protection Agency said states in the Bay watershed must reduce pollution. Maryland pledged an earlier date of 2020.
Summers said there is already funding in place from federal and state programs that make up about half the funding, and the MDE has been working with counties to find cost effective ways to reduce pollution.He said he would not maintain the $14 to $17 billion as an accurate cost estimate, as there are a number of measures to bring the costs down. He said the estimate could be cut in half in the future.
Pipkin was worried about what kind of effect that cost would have on taxpayers, but Summers said the costs would probably be economy-wide, and not hit individual citizens.
"The fact is, there are economy-wide benefits to the Bay and water quality. There's just a lot of the Maryland economy riding on healthy Bay," Summers said."All the things we're doing to clean up the Bay also protect our fresh water supply, ground water, stream river reservoirs basically our drinking water supply to try to judge the value of that to the economy."
Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, is concerned about sediment in the dam because it's partly to blame for wiping out the shellfish industry in Kent County.Jacobs said in the last major storm, 400 million tons of sediment scattered throughout the upper Bay.
"All that scouring ends up in my district. As a result we have no industry anymore," Jacobs said. "Now if you dive on (the oyster bars), it looks like Ocean City's beach because of sediment."Jacobs said there doesn't seem to by any effort by the DNR and others to restore the shellfish industry in that part of the bay. Dawson said the DNR has been working with the industry, allocating funding to help some areas north of the Bay Bridge, but Jacobs said the only project he is aware of is in Anne Arundel County.
Dawson said industries like the shellfish industry get wiped out every 20 years or so, and areas of the Bay have always been very susceptible to this. Right now, he said, the shellfish industry really exists south of the Bay Bridge.
Jacobs said it is like the DNR is almost writing off the upper bay."It kind of gets blown off to say your salinity count is low. We've lost the natural filter of the Bay (oysters), so when all this stuff (sediment) comes over that dam and begins in my district and works its way down to the Bay, the first line of defense is not there," Jacobs said. "Then you're asking us to pay ... enormous amounts of cleanup figures. You can't keep taking and not giving."
Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-37B-Talbot, suggested writing a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley to request a formal action plan. She said the letter will be drafted and sent out.