Damming evidence (Editorial)

(Sept. 2) Yesterday, Sept. 1, in the year of our Lord 2014, the Exelon Corp. was to receive from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission a license to continue to operate the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam ... at least for a while.
A lot of water will go over the dam, so to speak, before Exelon’s authority to continue its dam operation is assured.
Let’s review: The dam was built in 1928, and it was last licensed in August of 1980 and was due to be re-licensed on Sept. 1 of this year.
The corporation had requested its authority be continued for another 46 years.
In the years since its construction, it has backed up a “pond” 14 miles long that has captured an estimated 200 million tons of sediment which is now only 14 feet from the top of the dam.
It is generally accepted that the dam can no longer trap, after 86 years of operation, more than 50 percent of the sediment and phosphorous flowing down to it through Pennsylvania which means, of course, that what it can no longer hold ,it dumps into the Upper Chesapeake Bay in times of high water.
And therein lies the problem.
While Maryland farmers — often accused wrongly by enviro-activists as being a major contributor to the Bay’s acknowledged despair — continue to improve their conservation performance, they figure they are in a no-win situation.
It is acknowledged that a storm event can add up to 20 percent of the pollution load in the Bay, essentially negating anything the farmers “down stream” have been able to accomplish.
Even as the phosphorous pours into the Upper Bay — a lot of it in runoff originating in Pennsylvania farm fields — Maryland farmers, particularly on the Lower Shore, face the possibility of losing poultry manure as a fertilizer because of the phosphorous content of the litter.
The pressure has been building, interestingly from both the agricultural and the environmental communities, to require Exelon to formally issue a plan to lessen or to mitigate the sediment build-up behind the dam before the company is awarded a long-term license for the hydroelectric facility.
If the Federal Energy Regulation Commission fails in that task, if it is deaf to all the voices calling it to accept the enormous challenge of ordering the dredging behind the dam, it could be signing the Chesapeake Bay’s death certificate.