Conowingo Dam vs. Blackwater

What is the best way to handle the natural environment? Two optimal examples of extreme ways in which we can handle the environment are Conowingo Dam and Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Should we develop and use the water and land to the best of our advantage or should we preserve the environment and keep it untouched by humans?

Conowingo Dam is a dam on the Susquehanna River which is used for hydroelectric power.  The dam completely divides the Susquehanna River and has two fish ladders according the Conowingo Background reading.  The dam completely alters the environment and ecosystem it divides. The dam stops fish from being able to spawn north further into the Susquehanna.  The fish are blocked by the wall of the dam and since they cannot escape, the area has become a prime feeding ground for large birds of prey such as Bald Eagles.  The dam also greatly affects the flow of sediment in the Susquehanna River. All of the sediment gets stopped by the dam and none of it is able to flow down through the rest of the river or into the Chesapeake Bay.  The dam also changes the flow of water. There is usually at least a small flow of water out of the dam, but when the dam is completely open, so much water is released that they must put out sirens so people know to get out of the water because the water level will rise at least a foot within minutes or an hour. In addition to the many ecological impacts of the dam there are also many anthropogenic impacts of the dam as well.  When the dam was built in 1938 an entire community had to be evacuated because their town needed to be flooded and put underwater due to the 94 foot dam.  People are also able to have much better luck with fishing in front of the dam.  This is especially true during spawning season due to fish not being able to swim farther upstream and being blocked by the dam.  This is the same reason that birds of prey are so successful right in front of the dam.

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge is the complete opposite of the Conowingo Dam.  Blackwater Wildlife Refuge is managed by the Federal Government, while Conowingo Dam is managed by a private company, Exelon Corporation.  The refuge is preserved and undeveloped, and is a natural habitat in which people can go to observe the beauty of nature and appreciate what parts of the Earth would look like without human intervention.  This is the complete opposite of Conowingo Dam, which is an example of human obstruction and exploitation of nature.  When people visit the Conowingo Dam, they observe a manipulated and developed environment as opposed to Blackwater’s pristine beauty.  But Conowingo provides a lot of power to a lot of people.  Determining which is more valuable is entirely up to the interpretation of the individual.


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