The Susquehanna River is responsible for much of the sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, but the Conowingo Dam has often been targeted with the blame. The truth is that the Dam has been an effective sediment trap for the nearly 90 years of its existence. But the sediment trap is so full now that, in the event of large storms in the Susquehanna watershed, some of the mud is scoured by fast flowing water and pours into the Bay in large quantities.
Some say that when scouring occurs, the sediment flowing past the dam negatively affects the work of watershed organizations like the Sassafras River Association. That is not the case, however. Extensive tidal and non-tidal water quality sampling, conducted by the SRA and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, shows that the river contains more sediment and nutrients the farther it is from the Bay - and the cleanest part of the river is where it meets the Bay.
Since our restoration projects are where the most problems are, far upstream from the Bay itself, sediment from the Dam does not reach them, and has no effect on their success. Restoration projects like those we continue to install are shown to improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat, and will continue to provide benefits no matter what happens at the Conowingo Dam. (You can read more about SRA Restoration Projects here.)
There are reasons to advocate for dredging the sediment trap at Conowingo, but the myth of storm surges negating our work is not one of them.
We will continue to look to our own watershed and act on a local level to improve the health of the Sassafras and its tributaries. If we are serious about our goal to "Save the Bay", we must concentrate on cleaning all the rivers that flow into the Bay.
See you on the River,
Capt. Emmett Duke