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LEWISBURG, Pa. — Most people think "water" when they hear the word "dam." But during the eighth annual Susquehanna River Symposium the focus often turned to what is contained in the water behind dams. This past weekend, Bucknell hosted nine speakers and 140 event participants — professors and students, scientists, industry representatives, and policy-makers — as they explored the impact of dams on the watershed.
"Dams have become part of the fabric of the watershed; millions of people and jobs depend on them for water supply, electricity and recreation," said Benjamin Hayes, director of Bucknell's Susquehanna River Initiative and chair of this year's event. "A goal of this symposium was to provide an opportunity for students and faculty to present their research and create an opportunity for everyone to learn about both natural and man-made dams in the watershed." || Related content: Stories of the Susquehanna Valley.
Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, concentrated on one of the primary ecological benefits of the largest Susquehanna River dams: sediment trapping. "Light equals life," she repeatedly told participants while discussing the problem of sediment suffocating aquatic plants and animals.
River sediment also contains toxins, including pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Several speakers referenced studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and others that suggest the large hydro-electric Conowingo Dam near Conowingo, Md., which currently traps two-thirds of the sediment flowing down the Susquehanna, is nearly full.
Kimberly Long, senior program manager for Hydro-Relicensing of Conowingo, explained the extensive process that Exelon, the dam's owner, has been undertaking to secure relicensing through 2060. She acknowledged that more research addressing the sediment issue is needed.
Each of the speakers pointed out problems associated with dams of any size: restriction of water flow and disruption of natural plant and animal cycles. Some advocated careful removal of smaller dams. Rick Spear, water pollution biologist supervisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, explained that native freshwater mussels depend on American eels, which, because of dams, have not been able to migrate up the Susquehanna.
During the symposium, students and their advisors from Bucknell, Bloomsburg University, Franklin and Marshall College, King's College, Lock Haven University, Lycoming College and Susquehanna University presented more than 40 research posters on topics that included assessments of water quality, aquatic plants and animals in the Susquehanna, treatment of abandoned mine discharge, flood impacts on fish and human communities, innovative stream restoration techniques, invasive plants in riparian borders, Susquehanna River valley mapping, and reservoir sedimentation and water quality.
The symposium was sponsored by Bucknell's Environmental Center and the Susquehanna River Heartland Coalition for Environmental Studies (SRHCES). Since its inception, the Susquehanna River Symposium has served in part as a showcase of research supported by SRHCES. According to H.W. "Skip" Wieder, Jr., co-founder and SRHCES director, over the past seven years the coalition has provided more than $4 million to fund research at member institutions.