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Community News

Dam removal leads to changes in river

12/5/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

A kayaker makes his way on the Cuyahoga River near the Sheraton Suites Akron/Cuyahoga Falls. City officials said the removal of two 100-year-old dams has resulted in conditions that are favorable for recreation.
Photo: Ken Love
The removal of the Mill Dam, shown above, and the Powerhouse Dam during a two-week period for each in July came after the Ohio EPA urged the city of Cuyahoga Falls to take on the project.
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
Cuyahoga River cleanup efforts have unearthed about 220 tons of small tires and more than 2 tons of trash, some of which is shown above.
Photo: Eilert Ofstead/courtesy of the city of Cuyahoga Falls
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Two longtime dams on the Cuyahoga River were removed this year, and city officials said they are already seeing the positive results of the project.

“Probably the No. 1 thing people have noticed is less smell,” said Service Director Valerie Wax Carr. “The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has been doing surveying all along of the different bugs coming back and fish coming back.”

The removal this summer of the Mill Dam and Powerhouse Dam during a two-week period for each in July came after the Ohio EPA urged the city to take on the project. After the city received a $1 million EPA grant, Wax Carr said the project proceeded.

Dams have been used on the river for about 200 years, she said, but the two in question were about 100 years old.

“They were used for industrial purposes,” she said. “For many years, the EPA had talked to us about removing them for water-quality purposes.”

“Dams cause water-quality impacts,” said Bill Zawiski, environmental supervisor in the Ohio EPA’s Division of Surface Water’s Northeast Office. “They bury a river underwater. It changes habitats, the oxygen and how a stream functions, and results in harm to aquatic life.”

There were other possible fixes, but none of them would have the same effects as taking the dams out, Zawiski said.

The actual removal of the dams took place in summer, but work continued at the sites until mid-October, Wax Carr said.

One of the results of the dam removal is that the water has lowered, in some places as much as 7 feet, Wax Carr said. What was left on the banks in some areas was a thick muck that eventually dissipated.

Cleaning up at the river also unearthed some interesting items. About 220 tons of small tires, believed to be from the Falls Bicycle Shop that was on Front Street in the 1940s and ’50s, were uncovered and removed.

“We weren’t sure if tires were put there to stabilize the banks or if the river was used as a dumping ground,” Wax Carr said. “There were thousands of tires.”

Also, two fishermen found a metal box that was exposed in the muck. When they opened it, there was a rusted handgun inside. Wax Carr said a suspect in an armed robbery in 2006 had told police he tossed the item in the river by the Oak Park Bridge, but it had only been recovered through the recent project.

“One of the gentlemen called the police department, and they matched the serial number to the crime,” she said.

Other unusual items were unearthed, such as a 10-foot industrial spool and timber that might have been from an original factory on the river, Wax Carr said.

On National Public Lands Day, volunteers at the river collected more than 2 tons of trash, city officials said.

Kayakers and canoeists already started using the river this fall, she added. 

“Behind the Falls River Square amphitheater, the local kayaking community has created a nickname: Backstage Pass,” she said. “They say it’s a great area to practice tricks. Just the way the water spins, it’s a great spot.”

There is now a limestone path that has been installed under the Portage Trail Bridge for kayakers to exit the river. Those who are less experienced are encouraged to be on the river only to that point, Wax Carr said.

“It’s really important for people to understand there are dangers to this water,” she said. “They will hit major bedrock at the Sheraton.”

Kayakers typically enter around Water Works Park, she said. The rapids become more dangerous around the Sheraton, but experienced kayakers are able to tackle those.

Recreational river users are excited about that stretch, though it is small, Wax Carr said.

“What we understand from the whitewater world is there’s nothing close to this unless you go to West Virginia,” she said.

Zawiski said the Ohio EPA will continue to monitor the river to see the changes. In the short term, he expects the bug and fish populations to change in the next two years.

He added that vegetation already started growing in the summer and fall on banks that were exposed due to the changing water levels.

“There’s movement in the water, which there always was, but the pools were kind of stagnant,” Zawiski said. “It’s a real river now instead of a river with impediments.”

He added that removal of the dam at Gorge Metro Park would be the subject of a feasibility study to be conducted in the next 18 months. Public meetings will also take place.

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