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. Designer kindling. The internet just tried to sell me a $50 cardboard box of L.L. Bean branded kindling. The biggest problem I have with any of this is that if Bean has bothered to assemble a 35 pound box of kindling and put it on their sales rack, more than one person has actually bought it. That means there are people out there among us that spent $50 to have kindling shipped directly to their door. It feels like there are so many better ways to start a fire – shred a bit of newsprint, tear off some parts of that empty cereal box, soak a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly, or put a match to some of the lint you cleaned out of your clothes dryer. Throw a few small, dry sticks aboard and you could have saved yourself $50 plus shipping. Then again, you’d have missed out on the chance to impress your guests with your big box of designer kindling. The deeper we wade into it, the more I really do hate the 21st century.

2. Freedom of Speech. No, the NFL is not taking away anyone’s “free speech.” The First Amendment specifically prevents government from restricting speech, so unless you live in some Bizzaroland where you’re being governed by the commissioner and franchise owners, you sound like a ranting lunatic when you make that argument. The league, like most other business, is identifying what they deem acceptable behavior in the workplace. Knowing those conditions, people are then free to work for the NFL or not. As it turns out, even millionaires aren’t exempt from having a few limits placed on what they can say and do at the work place. After all, if it weren’t for those kind or rules, who in your office would decide that their version of “free expression” was dispensing with pants for the duration of their 8-hour shift?

3. LED bulbs. Over the last 3 years I’ve worked steadily to replace all the incandescent light bulbs on the homestead with LEDs. There’s been a surprisingly respectable reduction of power consumption (and corresponding reduction in cost) over time. This week, the bulb in one of the garage door openers went out and I dutifully replaced it with one of the spare LEDs I had laying around. It turns out there’s enough wattage running through the opener even when it’s “off” that it keeps the bulb lit at what I’m guessing is about 10% of it’s full output. It’s probably not enough to burn the house down, but it’s enough to be aggravating. I’d rather have a old-fashioned bulb burning for 5 minutes than a fancy new LED that burns all day every day until the end of time.