The dam…

According to local news reports over the last day or so, the State of Maryland wants the energy company that operates the Conowingo Dam to pick up the tab for cleaning debris that washed down stream into the Chesapeake following two weeks of heavy rains. It’s a fine thing to blame the dam for causing this. The dam, hundreds of feet of concrete 2880px-Conowingo_Dam_and_Power_House,_near_Bel_Air_and_Havre_de_Grace,_Md_(73856)standing astride the Susquehanna is a large and convenient target for the ire of politicians and activists. Blaming the dam, though, misses the point entirely.

Since it was put into service in 1928 the Conowingo bought about 90 years of reduced sediment flowing into the Bay, trapping decades of pollution behind its imposing concrete walls. The fact is that without the dam, every bit of that debris, silt, and chemical contamination would already be laying on the Bay’s floor or washed up on its shores. That’s 90 years’ worth of accumulation versus the two weeks’ worth that was washed through the spill gates last month. Sediment reduction wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye in the 1920s, but it has been a fortunate consequence of having the dam managing water flow downstream to the Bay.

Of course now that the Conowingo pool has reached or at least gotten close to the maximum amount of sediment it can impound upstream we’re seeing debris washed more frequently downstream into the Bay we’re identifying it as an emergency. I’ve been back now seven years and for at least that long the state and federal government have been wringing their hands on this issue without giving any real sense that they have a clue what to do. Even assuming for a moment that they do know what to do, they seem utterly flummoxed by deciding who’s going to pay the bill.

That’s all a long way of saying that I don’t blame the dam. It’s doing exactly what a dam is designed and built to do. I blame generations of regulators, legislators, governors, government officials, and corporate board members who let the situation develop and then fester. I blame the states up stream for not adopting practices and policies that would reduce their impact on the river and Bay.

If you were new to the world of environmental discussions about Chesapeake Bay, you might think the time is now ripe to launch the long needed effort to dredge the sediment impounded behind the Conowingo, haul it away, and prepare the dam for another 90 years of service. Since, of course, this is taking place in my beloved home state of Maryland, though, I know what’s really going to happen is that we’re going to have another blue ribbon panel, commission another study, and call in dozens of experts to tell us that which we already know to be the case.

I’d almost dared to hope that a raft of storm tossed debris driven ashore at the foot of the statehouse might garner some action on getting on with the job that needs doing. Shame on me for being so optimistic in the face of our political masters in Annapolis.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Reading badly written books. One of the small manifestations of my particular flavor of alleged OCD is found in the fact that even when I find something I’m supposed to be reading for pleasure and the sheer joy of the English language tedious, I can’t seem to stop. It’s the feeling of having a personal obligation to keep on with a book I’ve started no matter how badly it sucks. It’s infuriating. I hate to imagine how many books I’ve plowed through over the years long after I’d lost interest just because finishing what you start is the right thing to do. I’m getting better at ignoring that little voice in my head the older I get (and the correspondingly less I care about the “right thing to do”). Life is too short to read badly written drivel. Except when it’s something posted here, of course. Then you should definitely read it.

2. The Fight for Fifteen people. I wonder if these people realize that the minimum wage is exactly that. It’s the minimum wage set by the government. It’s not as if the government is telling business that they can only pay someone $7.25 an hour. It’s the absolutely minimum threshold for pay (as long as you’re not working a tipped position). Businesses are free to pay employees as far above that minimum basic wage as they are willing and able to pay – or more reasonably at any amount higher than the minimum than the prevailing market rates call for. It’s why you make more flipping a McBurger in Times Square than you do in Pig Knuckle, Arkansas. Wanting to make more money is fine – noble even – but you do that by making yourself a more valuable commodity and developing skills that are more marketable in the workplace. Expecting anyone to willingly hand over more money just because you show up with a sign still just doesn’t make any bleeding sense to me at all. It seems to me that if you have time to stand around on the sidewalk holding a sign, you might just be better served by doing something income generating with that time. I know I keep coming back to this well, but every time I forget about it and then see it pop up again, the annoyance mounts afresh. It can’t be helped.

3. People who put tartar sauce on a fresh made, Maryland lump crab cake. I can probably allow it if you’re feasting on fish sticks or if you lower yourself to buy flash frozen imitation crab cakes, but when you slather it on to the culinary gem of the Chesapeake, well, you’re just a monster.

Blue…

Despite the head full of crud that’s had me spend the better part of the last two days relegated to the recliner with a box of tissues and more liquid than any one person should drink, I feel like I need to rally this morning long Blue Crabsenough to celebrate that most magical time of year – April 1st. Sure, it’s April Fools day and I’m told it’s baseball’s opening day this year, but it’s also marks a far more important milestone: The opening of blue crab season in Maryland.

Sure, you can get blue crabs from other parts of the country and they’re fine if you need an Old Bay fix in the dead of winter, but for a Marylander, there’s something special about the crabs landed here in our own bay, by our own watermen. For my money, there’s no better food in all the world than Maryland crabs. It’s one of those seemingly small features of home that I only really learned to appreciate after spending five years in the landlocked middle of the country where “crab picking” ment dealing flash frozen snow or king crab legs.

For me, the Maryland crab is the quintessential taste of long summer afternoons. A bushel of crabs, an iced case of Natty Boh, what could possibly be better? Happy crab season, everyone.