A couple centuries ago, the Cuyaghoga River had dams a plenty. With it being such a strong flowing river, it naturally, and smartly at that, was viewed as a source of potential power.
The earliest settlers constructed dams to grind grain and distribute water to their crops. But one could make the argument during that time period that transportation was more important than agriculture. One of the main purposes of the dams during the early to mid 1800’s was to channel water from the river into the Ohio and Erie Canal. The canal system was a major factor in exporting and importing goods. One must remember, railroads did not come into play until the 1850’s.
The industrial age introduced a new need and use for dams. They began popping up next to factories left and right. The factories used the water for processing, cooling and power. In 1912, the city of Akron built the Lake Rockwell dam on the Cuyahoga River right here in Kent, Ohio. To this day, it provides clean water for over 300,000 residents. During the industrial age and even well into the 1900’s, people viewed dams as beneficial. Society was unaware of the negative effects dams could and would have on our water.
Dams have a significant negative impact on water quality. It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that dams block fish passage. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg… and its a big iceberg. Dams reduce dissolved oxygen, vary water temperature, trap toxins, alter the aquatic food web, increase algal growth, interfere with sediment transportation, reduce benthic populations and obstruct several chemical processes.
Not only are dams a danger to the life of the river, but humans as well. The hydraulic waves created downstream are death traps for paddlers and swimmers. Once you get sucked underneath the current, you may never resurface.
Dams aren’t easy to remove. Each dam presents its own issues and challenges. It takes years of studying to decipher the proper way to approach the process. Not to mention the cost, it isn’t cheap. Some provide their own unique challenges that maybe wouldn’t come to mind at first thought. Scientific studies had shown, for the betterment of the river, the dam in Kent had to be removed. However, the Kent Historic Society disagreed with that notion. They felt it was a cultural resource and needed to be protected. A compromise was met where they decided to alter the dam. The damn was altered to allow the river to flow freely while part of the damn is still standing.
The four completed Cuyahoga dam removals have totaled a cost of $8.6 million. The removal of these dams has been instrumental in the rivers water quality improvement.
Source: Friends of the Crooked River