It’s a Dam Podcast

At one point there were 7 dams dotting the Cuyahoga river. These dams were put in place to provide functions such as to divert water to other areas or with the idea of creating hydroelectric power. With the continued efforts to clean and restore the water quality of the river dams were one of the major impairments causing complications as Bill Zawiski of the Ohio EPA explains.

“Dams have a host of problems, so a river needs to flow, move water, move sediment. A dam disrupts that, and it causes sediment to build up behind the structure and river then will reclaim sediment cause that’s what it does downstream and that will cause erosion.”

Dams also have other biological impacts on rivers as they impede the passage of fish which had extremely negative results for aquatic life for a long period of time.

But now in twenty nineteen Chief Development Officer Emeritus for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park John Debo explains the changes that have occurred with dams along the river.

“The good news is on the Cuyahoga dams are disappearing fast. Dams have been removed in Kent, Munroe falls, 2 smaller dams in Cuyahoga Falls, the Peninsula dam was taken out many many years ago. And the Brecksville dam is about to come out.”

While these dams have been removed the process behind it isn’t always so simple. Things like funding and community members wanting to keep the dam for historical purposes have slowed the process when it comes to dam removal as Zawiski explains.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there on dams so some folks feel that the dam by impounding water actually makes a healthy river cause there’s water in it so there’s an educational gap.”

Once Brecksville is out there will be only one major dam left on the Cuyahoga and it is also the biggest. The Gorge Dam is in Cuyahoga Falls and the successful removal of other dams have helped get community and city backing behind the project, but the Gorge still presents a few challenges.

“The challenge of the gorge is there’s 832,000 cubic yards of sediment so there’s a lot of mud, so that’s a physical design challenge. As our biggest structure how do you knock that out? There’s ways around all of that so those even though they’re big tasks, they’re not impossible tasks.”

Removal of the Gorge will improve water quality and biological life in the river but Debo says other benefits will result.

“When that happens a side effect besides the biological improvement of the Cuyahoga river, when that dam is removed it’s going to restore the great falls of the Cuyahoga.”

As a member of the EPA Zawiski’s primary concern is water quality but he also mentions the other benefits that will come with the dam’s removal.

“That section because it’s so steep and with the rapids is a white water only, so it’ll be a kayak stream. It’s going to be a very good kayak stream. That’s going to be unrivaled in this area and in the Eastern United States, it’s going to be one of those high quality kayaking streams, so I think the tourism industry, which is folks wanting to see this natural resource, that’s going to have some impact. So, folks will come just to see the beauty of the gorge, so it will have other benefits just besides the water quality.”

Debo says that when the gorge is removed it will be a great day for the river and community.

“It’s just going to be a moment that will be a little bit transcendent when that dam comes out of there to think that a river that was once very heavily dammed will now be back in its free-flowing state.”

The Gorge removal project is currently in plans to be completing sometime between 2023 and 2025 and will cost approximately $65 to $70 million dollars.


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