Updated: Mar 29, 2020
The Baltimore Sun’s coverage of Deep Creek Lake (DCL) water issues presents a pessimistic tone, highlighting a view by one person that “Everyone’s going to have to take a little pain.” As someone who has been a DCL person for seven decades and a watershed activist [Friends of Deep Creek Lake], I have a different perspective.
While it appears on the surface as a conflict over water rights, as reported by Scott Dance [for the Sun], the fundamental challenge is sediment accumulation problem. Like the Susquehanna River and areas of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, sediment accumulates in our lake water bodies, trapped behind the dams which created our man-made lakes.
“Since the day they completed the dam, sediment has been accumulating at DCL” according to DNR’s Bruce Michael. This is a recognized natural process of lake aging and the good news is that lake managers know what to do. Lakes around the world have been restored by undertaking the best lake management practice of dredging. Example; here in Maryland, is the excellent restoration work on Columbia’s Lakes.
I have had the honor to be a member of MDE stakeholder group reviewing the Brookfield Renewable Water Appropriations application. The current process has been respectful and collaborative, not divisive, as the article suggests. Of course there have been different viewpoints expressed, but everyone voiced their opinions in a constructive manner, with many consensus positions already accepted. The permit authorizes the dam operator to withdraw up to seven feet of depth of water during the year while following MDE established guidelines.
At the core of review consideration is whether the application is deemed “reasonable”-- that water to be use is of a reasonable quantity, that such withdrawal will be reasonable and, lastly, there is reasonable impact on other users of the resource.
The fact is the withdrawal does create an unreasonable impact, on those sections of the lake which are impaired by sediment accumulation. In 2011 DNR identified ten lake coves impaired by sediment. The combination of sediment accumulation and the water withdrawals by the dam operator leads to insufficient water depth for recreational uses--all kinds of boating, swimming and fishing, which can start as early as mid-August.
When [the state of] Maryland purchased DCL in 2000, it deemed the highest use for DCL to be recreational purposes, yet the decisions on water withdrawal are directly responsible for loss of recreational uses. Clearly the MDE and DNR should work with the Attorney General’s Office to address this conflict in the two state laws on DCL management.
We know what to do. For DCL, a state-owned lake, the Governor should include funding for lake dredging in his upcoming budget. Such action does not require new policy, rather it is an expansion of Governor Hogan’s existing policy for the Conowingo Dam as articled in March of this year --removal of sediment and pollutants behind the dam, secure financial contribution from the dam operator as part of the current operating permit process, and have dredging be the catalyst for creating a restoration economy while reducing threats to water quality and recreational uses.