Experts warn of 'dead zone' in Chesapeake Bay from pollution

phys.org | 5/16/2019 | Staff
moemajor (Posted by) Level 3
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When the Conowingo Dam opened to fanfare nearly a century ago, the massive wall of concrete and steel began its job of harnessing water power in northern Maryland. It also quietly provided a side benefit: trapping sediment and silt before it could flow miles downstream and pollute the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary.

The old hydroelectric dam spanning the lower Susquehanna River is still producing power, but its days of effectively trapping sediment in a 14-mile (22.5-kilometer) long reservoir behind its walls are over. Behind the 94-foot (29-meter) high barrier lies a massive inventory of coal-black muck—some 200 million tons (181 million metric tons) of pollutants picked up over decades from farmlands, industrial zones and towns.

Threat - Sediment - Stockpile - Chesapeake - Bay

How big a threat this sediment stockpile poses to the Chesapeake Bay or whether anything can even be done about it depends on who one talks to. With Maryland pushing to curb pollution in dam discharges, the issue has become a political football as Conowingo's operator seeks to renew its federal license to operate the dam for 46 more years after its old license expired.

And as negotiations drag on, the lack of agreement about curbing runoff pollutants following the wettest year on record imperils hard-won gains in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Estuary - Crabs - Oysters - Cleanup - Program

The iconic estuary famed for its blue crabs and oysters has been gradually rebounding under a federal cleanup program launched in 1983 that put an end to unbridled pollution. But the 200-mile (325-kilometer) long bay is increasingly being ravaged by runoff-triggering downpours, including record-setting rainfall in 2018 and this year's soggy spring.

Intense cycles of downpours are washing pollutants into the Chesapeake from municipal sewer overflows, subdivisions and farms where manure often isn't effectively handled and nitrogen and phosphorous-rich fertilizers are used. Experts say climate change is accelerating the environmental decline, potentially leading to more damaging...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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