Conowingo is not the only polluting dam

Conowingo is not the only “dam problem” on the Annapolis agenda this year (“Conowingo: Don’t draw red line in mud,” Jan. 2). Maryland owns 16 lakes, most of which are impaired by sediment accumulation and pollutants. These are important state-owned natural, recreational and economic assets, and it is time for the state to restore these waterways and, as owner, make a financial commitment to get this done.

Just like Conowingo, the huge dredging cost are due to decades of inaction creating today threats to water quality and condition must demand action and require investment. Deep Creek Lake, one of the Maryland-owned lakes, was created by damming the Youghiogheny River nine decades ago. It has never been dredged, though sediment removal is accepted worldwide as the best management practice for man-made lakes. Five years ago, the state identified 10 lake coves to be sediment impaired. No action has taken place because “there is no state funding” nor full acceptance by the Department of Natural Resources of the importance of dredging for lake sustainability and protection of state assets.

There are several lessons from the Conowingo Dam issue which should shape policy regarding state-owned lakes.The day dams are completed, sediment and contaminants begin to be trapped behind them and, over time, this accumulation will have substantial negative impacts impairing water quality and conditions. The longer the sediment accumulation is ignored, the more sediment accumulates and the greater the costs for removal sediment along with the associated impairments to the waterway. The state does not require as part of the operating license that dam owners and operator must undertake dredging as part of their operating costs. Today, Gov. Larry Hogan is asking Exelon, the current dam operator, to pay for costs of decades of sediment accumulation.

Who is responsible for all the years of inaction and accumulation? Using this framework, the governor has set state policy for state-owned lakes where the state of Maryland, as the owner of the dams at the state-owned lakes, must assume fiscal responsibility for costs of dredging. An opportunity to make this affirm such a commitment will be provided the Hogan administration in the upcoming General Assembly session. It will be interesting to watch what they decide — a state really should not have two policies for the same problem.

Barbara Beelar, Oakland

The writer is director of Friends of Deep Creek Lake.

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