The below article originally appeared in the Bay Journal News Service earlier this week.
The Susquehanna River and its
big dams have been in the news lately. A handful of Maryland county officials
would like you to believe the dams are the primary ill of the Chesapeake Bay.
They claim that because sediment reservoirs behind the Conowingo Dam are at
capacity, instead of trapping pollutants during storms, the dam now allows two
pollutants—phosphorus and sediment—to flow downstream at alarming rates.
They argue that years of restoration progress have been erased and that current
bay restoration efforts do not address these issues. And finally, these local
leaders contend that Maryland's investments in restoring the bay would be "futile" and all of the efforts to help our local waters should now come to a
Well, as chair of the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) for the
Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes the state governors, Environmental
Protection Administration administrator and other senior officials who guide
the cleanup effort, I write today with good news—every bit of scientific
information available says they are wrong on all counts.
First, they claim 80 percent of the pollution to the bay comes from the
Susquehanna River. This figure is not in any of the scientific information I've
seen and no expert I've contacted knows where the number comes from.
Second, the nutrients and sediment passing through the Susquehanna's dams,
under all conditions, are indeed accounted for in the state-of-the art tools
the bay restoration scientists use.
Third, while storms do increase the freshwater and pollutants flowing through
the dam, they by no means erase the progress we have made. For example, the
large grass bed on the Susquehanna Flats, located right where that river meets
the bay, withstood the flow of fresh water and sediment downstream during last
fall's storms precisely because we put time and effort into restoring it to
And finally, whatever pollutants get past the dam primarily affect the
northernmost tidal waters of the bay and its rivers.
So let's talk about things that are true.
The recent introduction of pollution limits in the effort to clean up
Chesapeake Bay recognized that we could no longer point our fingers at someone
else. We all have to do more to protect our local streams and by doing so, help
the Chesapeake Bay. Many Pennsylvania and Maryland localities are already
investing wisely in projects to restore their own local waters and send cleaner
In Lancaster, Pa., even before the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was established, we
changed our thinking and began to put projects in place to stop polluted runoff
before it reaches local waters. We are continuing to invest our money in sewage
treatment and stormwater infrastructure, using green technologies and following
our comprehensive green infrastructure plan.
Meeting our local goals will
be costly in the short term, but recent studies done in and on our city
actually show a cost savings in the long run. In other words, if we postpone
what has to be done, future generations will bear an even greater financial
burden. So we are building Lancaster into a more appealing, livable community
right now, with more trees, gardens and healthier waters, all of which give us
a better chance of attracting new residents and economic growth.
So, why, LGAC members wonder, would any county
or city spend their citizens' dollars on lawyers to fight against clean water
rather than using that money to improve their communities and their local
Maryland’s county officials should recognize
that their counties and towns have the most vital interest in the bay. If they
give up their efforts, many in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other states will use
that as an excuse to do nothing. Rather than pulling back or arguing, I would
expect Maryland localities to fully appreciate the value of clean local waters
and set the example for all of those upstream.
There is so much financial
assistance available, so many creative "green" engineering firms at work and so
many solid, new ways to manage polluted runoff that we are dumbfounded by the
resistance from these local leaders toward cleaner local waters for their
communities and the bay.
To the extent Conowingo Dam is an issue, let's
get the right people to the table to talk constructively about the facts and
solve the problem. The timing is perfect because the license for that dam is up
Enough of creating diversions
and pointing fingers to distract from the work that is so sorely needed. It's
time to recognize that we are all in this together. It's time, past time in
fact, to get busy on the work we were entrusted to do as our communities'
—J. Richard Gray
J. Richard “Rick” Gray is Mayor of
Lancaster, Pa. and the Chair of the Local Government Advisory Committee, an
independent group of elected local leaders from Maryland, Pennsylvania,
Virginia and the District of Columbia that advises the Bay Program’s Chesapeake