May 2020 Updates

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Conowingo Factor a Constant During Pandemic

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and associated public health and economic crises are changing the way the world functions. How we interact, perform our jobs, conduct business, and plan for the future is rapidly changing. Mother Nature, on the other hand, appears to be enjoying a respite from the aggregate impacts of fully-functioning economies around the world. Amid these unprecedented times, tides still change, rains come, rivers flow and, unfortunately for the Chesapeake Bay and downstream restoration efforts, scouring still happens at Conowingo Dam, dumping shock-loading proportions of nutrient-laden sediments and other pollution into the upper Bay in a matter of days…

Meanwhile, the fate of MDE’s Settlement Agreement with Exelon and Conowingo Dam’s new 50-year license rests in the hands of FERC, and the Conowingo WIP Steering Committee (under the supervision of EPA) has published a Draft Conowingo WIP , raising questions about the official public comment period. More on this to come.

April Showers Bring May Scours

At the beginning of the month, the sediment plume in the Upper Chesapeake Bay was rampant (as seen in this satellite image courtesy of MDNR ) due to April rainfall in Pennsylvania and New York.

We called the Conowingo Spill Conditions Hotline on the morning of May 5, 2020. They were operating under spill conditions with 2 spill gates open and 2 to 4 more scheduled to open within the next 8 hours. They reported a river flow of 123,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). As we know, scouring of harmful nutrients and sediment in the Conowingo Reservoir occurs at a river flow of 100,000 cfs. The day before, on May 4, there were 9 gates open. According to USGS , the peak flow during this scouring event was nearly 250,000 cfs on May 2 and May 3.

The turbidity in the Bay wasn't much better. The image below (courtesy of NOAA) shows the murkiness of the Upper Bay at the beginning of the month.


EPA Issues Temporary Policy re Enforcement During COVID-19 Pandemic

According to the March 26, 2020 EPA Memorandum , the Agency will exercise discretion during the period covered by the temporary policy in addressing noncompliance issues and enforcement response times. States can continue enforcement of state environmental laws and regulations, as MDE officials have said they will continue doing so regardless of the March EPA Memorandum.

Articles & Media of Note

Coronavirus Stalls some Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration Projects

Bay Journal , 14 April 2020

Lawmakers mull adding Chesapeake Bay to National Park Service (NPS) roster

E&E Daily , 13 April 2020

Advocates Press for More Federal Funding to Help Reach Bay Goals

Bay Journal , 13 April 2020

Coronavirus Hinders Bay Cleanup Efforts, Seafood Industry

Bay Journal , 26 March 2020

Climate, Environment Come Up Short in 2020 General Assembly

The Star Democrat , 22 March 2020

Opinion: Bipartisan Emergency Bill Would Halt Bad Deal on Conowingo

Maryland Matters – by Betsey Nichols, Waterkeepers Chesapeake , 12 March 2020

Lawmakers Push Bill to Axe Conowingo Dam Deal

The Star Democrat , 12 March 2020

Lawmakers upset about current agreement between Exelon, Conowingo Dam

ABC 2 (Baltimore, Md.) WMAR-TV , 11 March 2020

Lawmakers, Clean-water Advocates Team Up To Oppose Conowingo Pact , 11 March 2020

Md.'s Proposed Concession to Exelon Bad for Susquehanna, Bay

The Star Democrat , 4 March 2020

Environmentalists, Shore Officials Oppose Conowingo Settlement

Bay Journal , 12 February 2020

EPA Assurance Fails to Mollify Concerns Over PA Bay Cleanup Plans

Bay Journal , 27 January 2020

Can the EPA Enforce the Chesapeake Bay's "Pollution Diet"?

Bay Journal , 14 January 2020

MD Threatens to Sue EPA, PA Over Lack of Action As Regional Tensions Rise

Bay Journal , 14 January 2020