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Deep Creek Lake’s biggest problem is sediment

Fishing on Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County at dusk. Water levels in the man-made lake have become a source of conflict.
Fishing on Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County at dusk. Water levels in the man-made lake have become a source of conflict. (AMY DAVIS / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Sun’s coverage of Deep Creek Lake water issues presents a pessimistic tone, highlighting a view by one person that everyone is “going to have to take a little pain” (”Debate over Deep Creek Lake water rights divides boaters, anglers and rafters," Sept. 30). As someone who has been a Deep Creek Lake person for seven decades and a watershed activist, I have a different perspective.

While it appears on the surface as a conflict over water rights, as reported by The Sun’s Scott Dance, the fundamental challenge is a sediment accumulation problem. Like the Susquehanna River and areas of the Chesapeake and Coastal bays, sediment accumulates in our lake water bodies, trapped behind the dams which create our man-made lakes. This is a recognized natural process of lake aging and the good news is that lake managers know what to do.

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Lakes around the world have been restored by undertaking the best lake management practice of dredging. An example here in Maryland is the excellent restoration work on Columbia’s lakes. I have had the honor to be a member of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) stakeholder group reviewing the Brookfield Renewable Water Appropriations application. The current process has been respectful and collaborative, not divisive, as the article suggests. Of course, there have been different viewpoints expressed, but everyone voiced their opinions in a constructive manner with many consensus positions already accepted.

The permit authorizes the dam operator to withdraw up to 7 feet of depth of water during the year while following MDE established guidelines. At the core of review consideration is whether application is deemed “reasonable” — that water to be use is of a reasonable quantity, the withdrawal will be reasonable and, lastly, there is reasonable impact on other users of the resource. The fact is the withdrawal does create an unreasonable impact on those sections of the lake which are impaired by sediment accumulation.

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In 2011, DNR identified 10 lake coves impaired by sediment. The combination of sediment accumulation and the water withdrawals by the dam operator leads to insufficient water depth for recreational uses — all kinds of boating, swimming and fishing which can start as early as mid-August. When Maryland purchased Deep Creek Lake in 2000, it deemed the highest use for DCL to be recreational purposes. Yet the decisions on water withdrawal are directly responsible for loss of recreational uses. Clearly, the MDE and DNR should work with the Maryland Attorney General’s office to address this conflict in the two state laws.

We know what to do. For Deep Creek, a state-owned lake, Gov. Larry Hogan should include funding for lake dredging in his upcoming budget. Such action does not require new policy, rather it is an expansion of Governor Hogan’s existing policy for the Conowingo Dam as articulated in March of this year: removal of sediment and pollutants behind the dam, secure financial contribution from the dam operator as part of the current operating permit process and have dredging be the catalyst for creating a restoration economy while reducing threats to water quality and recreational uses.

Barbara Beelar, Annapolis

The writer is director of Friends of Deep Creek Lake.

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