Conowingo Dam must be operated responsibly | READER COMMENTARY

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Water flows through Conowingo Dam, a hydroelectric power plant spanning the lower Susquehanna River. Officials once counted on the dam to block large amounts of sediment in the Susquehanna from reaching Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary, but the reservoir behind the dam has filled with sediment far sooner than expected. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

In his recent letter to the editor (“At Conowingo Dam, a balance of competing needs,” May 5), Bob Rassa describes a false dichotomy between pursuing a path towards renewable energy and protecting the Chesapeake Bay. Rassa insinuates that the Choose Clean Water Coalition is advocating for the removal the Conowingo Dam. In reality, we have never held that position. When managed properly, hydropower is an important energy source to avoid burning fossil fuels and contributing to negative impacts from climate change.

But at the Conowingo Dam, there is an issue of responsibility. And it comes down to dollars and cents. The CEO of Constellation Power asserts the recently thrown-out license embodied a “landmark agreement” between Constellation and Maryland that would benefit the Bay and would have resulted “in Constellation spending $700 million on Bay cleanup measures over the life of the license.” The origin of this $700 million figure is unclear, as the agreement with Maryland was for just $200 million. Regardless, the life of the license is 50 years, which would make a $700 million contribution from Constellation just $14 million a year or, at $200 million, just $4 million a year.


While this may still seem like a large investment, an independent economic study suggests Constellation could invest between $27 million to $44 million annually and still make a comfortable profit for shareholders. For more context, the last estimate from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment just to dredge the sediment build up behind the dam is up to $41 million a year.

Rassa is correct that our need for electricity is growing by leaps and bounds. And we need to find clean, renewable sources of energy to avoid the worst impacts from climate change. But as independent companies use a public resource to make huge profits, they need to pay their fair share to ensure we leave a legacy of clean water to future generations.


Writes Rassa, “Yes, we need to be environmentally conscious, but reasonable compromise is going to have to be part of the plan. Let’s figure out how we can operate Conowingo and be as environmentally conscious as practical and feasible.”

We couldn’t agree more.

— Mariah Davis, Annapolis

The writer is acting director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

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