by Rachel Felver
October 14, 2020
The Chesapeake Bay Program took an important first step today in addressing the additional pollution coming from the Conowingo Dam by releasing the draft Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).
When first built in 1928, the Conowingo Dam was hailed as a feat of modern engineering. However, in recent years, reports from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Lower Susquehanna Watershed Assessment Team have confirmed that the reservoir located behind the dam is essentially full and sending more and more sediment, along with nutrients and chemical contaminants attached, downstream into the Chesapeake Bay.
Right around the time these reports came out, the Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions—Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia—began to work on their Phase III WIPs. WIPs are detailed strategies that outline actions to be taken to reduce the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollutants that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Each of the six states and the District of Columbia prepare WIPs to meet their pollution reduction targets that are called for in the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL).
In 2018, the Chesapeake Bay Program formed a steering committee to develop a collaborative strategy in which to address the increased pollution coming from the Conowingo Dam. The steering committee is made up of representatives from each of the watershed jurisdictions and the Chesapeake Bay Commission. They ultimately decided that the dam needed its own WIP, as well as a financing strategy specifically aimed at addressing the additional pollution flowing into the Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would provide oversight in the development and implementation of the WIP, evaluate and track progress, and provide funding support through grants.
The Conowingo WIP is separate from the WIPs that each watershed jurisdiction has put into place under the Bay TMDL. It is intended to address the approximately six million pounds of nitrogen and 0.26 million pounds of phosphorus that is uniquely coming as a result of the reservoir behind the Conowingo Dam no longer trapping sediment.
“The goal of the plan is to find the lowest cost solutions to eliminate six million pounds of nitrogen pollution entering waterways,” said Bryan Seipp, watershed planner with the Center for Watershed Protection. “The Conowingo WIP is a much-needed solution to a challenging problem that will build on, but not duplicate, the WIPs that jurisdictions are already using to meet their existing goals.”
The steering committee agreed that the most effective way of dealing with the increased pollution is by pooling resources to pay for best management practices in the locations that will have the most influence on the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. The EPA awarded nearly $600,000 to further the Conowingo WIP and each watershed jurisdiction contributed a portion of their annual EPA grant funding.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is soliciting input on the draft Conowingo WIP in order better evaluate the feasibility, costs and approach, while informing the future financing strategy and implementation of the plan. To read the draft Conowingo WIP, please visit https://www.chesapeakebay.net/channel_files/41689/draft_conowingo_watershed_implementation_plan_10_14_20.pdf. Comments may be submitted to CWIP@chesapeakebay.net until Wednesday, January 20, 2021.
“Importantly, we now get to hear from other stakeholders and practitioners implementing projects on the ground how the WIP can work with their existing plans, commitments and funding programs,” said Matt Rowe, assistant director of the water and science administration at the Maryland Department of the Environment and co-chair of the steering committee. “This process will provide a critical reality check on the plan and help guide its future.”