Stalking #4: An Individual’s Moral Responsibility to the Environment- The Conowingo Dam

         Less than 50 years ago, underwater grasses used to grow up to 6ft long. They grew so long that buoys were not needed, as the boats traveling through the deepest parts would overtime create a highway. The grasses in the Chesapeake Bay are crucial to the health of the ecosystem.  Not only do underwater grasses serve as a food source and shelter for many fish and other species but they also serve another purpose.

         Many people state that if we can figure out how to get the bay grasses back it would restore all of the major issues. All of the main things we have done to restore the health of the bay have failed. It is apparent that no one person has taken responsibility for the deteriorating condition of the bay because there is not one sole source.

         When speaking about environmental ethics there is a clear division between the values that people place on things. These values are the results of culture and society and less often based on personal experiences. Humans value both but their degree of moral responsibility varies between what they consider to have intrinsic or instrumental worth.

         We continue to ignore the one point source that scientists say provides 50% of our pollution, the conowingo dam. When does the protection of our homes and businesses become more valuable than the habitat of hundreds of species? Over 100 feet of sediment stretches north of the dam for roughly 14 miles, a devastating storm is bound to wash thousands of tons of contaminated and concentrated sediment through the open flood gates. Many researchers state that they are not intending to pointing fingers at Exelon, but someone who has a storm water pond needs to be responsible for cleaning it out. Consequences were not considered in the design and function of the dam and the company and the health of the bay are risk.

        Conowingo dam is under a relicensing contract and if contract is renewed it will not be reevaluated for another 46 years. Officials are looking into the management and maintenance of the facility but very little of the media is covering this massive issue. People who work on and live on the water have been able to experience first hand the demise of the bay.

          I like to think of the Conowingo Dam as a symbol of our interference into the natural ecosystem, not only did human beings selfishly harm the natural cycle of the river but viewed the river in a different light. In 1928 the section of the river was forever changed. The successful fish migrations and life cycles would cease or be altered permanently. As human beings we viewed the river as a potential energy source and as an engine for economic profit. The hydroelectric power plant was constructed in the river, which people began to see as steps forward into a cleaner and more efficient future.

            In my opinion, while the Conowingo does now provide hundreds of people with power; it was not the way to approach the need for cleaner power. Human beings immorally put themselves and their need for electric power before the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Due to the detrimental actions of previous generations the current public is now obligated to make a reform to the plant. When making any kind of environmental change in our society today long term consequences must be considered. The Conowingo Dam offers a great view into how lack of planning and how looking only at short term can lead to detrimental problems like the 14 mile sediment blockage. The sediment itself is symbolic; as it has overtime suffocated the bay grasses its only savior.  The grasses that once helped slow the velocity of the water flow and forced the sediment particles to settle has been lost because of a short-term action.

          The current generation of human beings is just as responsible for the impacts of the dam as the generation who built it. As human beings, especially in society today, we have become accustomed to a certain way of life. The way of life that so many people have adapted to is one where high demand for electric power and energy makes it nearly impossible to not impact the environment. Due to the volatile nature of the shallow body of water, the Chesapeake Bay the people within the watershed must take more responsibility for our actions. When pressured by moral duty to preserve the natural environment people take responsibility for their actions. For years no one has taken real responsibility for the failing Conowingo Dam. The dam is a ticking time bomb and if it breaks, as some researchers have pointed as a possibility, there may not be a need for restorative action. With such a catastrophe there will undoubtedly be an extensive search and need for people to take moral responsibility for every one of their actions. 

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