Great minds get together: A day spent discussing impacts of the Susquehanna River and the “Reservoir Reach”

Dylan Taillie ·
1 September 2016
Science Communication | Applying Science | 

On Wednesday, August 24th a group of technical experts, stakeholders and communicators met at the Chesapeake Bay Program in an attempt to make some sense of the current knowledge about the influence of the Susquehanna River reservoir system on Chesapeake Bay water quality.

The group that gathered in Eastport on this temperate August day was a diverse one, although almost everyone in the room had been involved with Susquehanna River management and/or research for a number of years.

Conowingo Meeting group photo
From left to right: Rachel Felver (Chesapeake Bay Program), Rich Batiuk (Chesapeake Bay Program), Nicki Kasi (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection), Joel Blomquist (US Geological Survey), Mike Langland (US Geological Survey), Lewis Linker (Chesapeake Bay Program), Lee Currey (Maryland Department of the Environment), Jeff Cornwell (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science), Bruce Michael (Maryland Department of Natural Resources), Bob Hirsch (US Geological Survey), Scott Phillips (US Geological Survey); Not pictured: Jeremy Testa (UMCES). Credit: Jane Thomas

Implications of the Susquehanna River and Conowingo Dam seem to have taken on a life of their own, although the science hasn’t always necessarily backed up conclusions that have been made about the massive reservoir system and its effect on Bay Health. Studies that have been recently undertaken along with the current knowledge about the sediment building up behind the dam are beginning to suggest that the general view of the Conowingo Dam and its reservoir as an “800-lb gorilla” may not be supported by the science.

One of the first discussions of the meeting was clarifying that it is not solely the Conowingo Dam that should be under a magnifying glass, but rather the whole “reservoir reach”. The reservoir reach can be defined as the area of the Susquehanna River bounded by the three lowest dams – Safe Harbor, Holtwood, and Conowingo. Flows of sediments and nutrients should be considered along this entire reservoir reach, not just Conowingo Dam itself.

Rather than being just one big 800-lb gorilla, it seems to be more likely that the nutrients and sediment from the Susquehanna are just one of many gorillas inhabiting a rainforest (the rainforest in this scenario being the Chesapeake Bay, and the gorillas being negative effects on Bay water quality).

The discussion topics for the meeting were:

  1. What do the water-quality trends reveal about the inputs and outputs of nutrients and sediment and the reservoirs?
  2. What is happening in the Conowingo reservoir to cause worsening water quality trends to tidal waters?
  3. What are the effects of increasing nutrient and sediment loads on tidal water quality?
  4. What are the management implications and options that have been considered?

The nutrients and sediments infilling behind Conowingo Reservoir were a major discussion topic at the meeting
The nutrients and sediments infilling behind Conowingo Reservoir were a major discussion topic at the meeting

The group was able to come to some consensus over many of the above-listed topics, and it is clear that more research must be done and monitoring must continue throughout the reservoir system as well as the Upper Bay. IAN will help to organize a report that will be released in the coming months about much of what was discussed in this short but detailed meeting.

About the author

Dylan Taillie

Dylan is a Science Communicator with IAN. He has experience in various areas of visual information, science communication and technical analyses. Strengths in data management, environmental assessment and stakeholder engagement. He has worked with IAN in various positions since 2016 and enjoys fishing and hiking.

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