New Happenings on the Cuyahoga, Part I: Dam Removal
As of November 1, 2012
by Matt Muir

Note: This issue is under constant flux, as new info becomes available weekly. And it's (almost) all good! Dam removal is moving forward at a great pace.
* Elaine Marsh, Conservation Director for Friends of The Crooked River, spoke at the KHCC meeting in November. Most of this update comes from her excellent talk. (Your Keel-haulers dues support the club's conservation fund, part of which helps support FoCR.) The bottom line: in 1992, there were nine dams on the Cuyahoga. Currently, there are six. In 2014, there will be four, and by 2020, we may be down to two—and the First Energy Dam, that 60-foot insult to the river, is one that we anticipate will be removed. This will be great for fish and other aquatic species (including paddlers). (More after the pretty picture.)

The rapid that you'll be running in 2020? Ancient photo courtesy of Eilert Ofstead.

The Crooked River has endured innumerable insults over the years. In the 19th century, if a tourist in a party boat fell into the river, it was considered a dire threat to their health. A few times in the 1900’s, it caught fire—most famously in 1969. This was one of the inspirations for the Clean Water Act. Since then, by fits and starts, the Cuyahoga has been getting cleaner and more healthy.
Most discharges into the river have been removed, which was the first step in cleanup. But two issues have been huge obstacles to improving the water quality: Dams and Combined Sewer Overflows. Next month's KaNews will have an article about CSOs; this bit is about the dams.
Dams are not only an impediment to navigation, or drowning machines. They’re bad for the river’s health. They prevent fish passage upstream. Perhaps more importantly, they create a flatwater “pool” upstream. The pool doesn’t have the natural aeration that rapids have. The result is that the Dissolved Oxygen content of the water is low. Without Dissolved Oxygen, many fish and other aquatic species can’t live. The river gets skanky and smelly.
So what’s happening? Well, there were nine dams, as of 1992. We’re talking about the Kent Dam, the Munroe Falls Dam, the Lefever and Sheraton Dams in Cuyahoga Falls, the First Energy Dam at the Cuyahoga Falls / Akron border, the Peninsula Dam just North of Rte. 303, and the Brecksville Dam, known to many Keel-haulers as the “Route 82 Dam.” (Two dams, on the East Branch and Lake Rockwell, are reservoir dams; their purpose is clear, and there’s no push to remove them.)
The Peninsula Dam is a small one, and it’s been breached by age and weather. (Twenty years or so ago, on a high-water day when I had little control of my wildwater boat, I remember floating over it, sideways. The ensuing swim wasn’t much fun.) It used to be a total drowning machine. It’s still a sketchy drop, with quite a bit of rebar to snag the unwary paddler.

Two Came Down
In the 1990’s, the Ohio EPA began to push for dam removal. A few Keel-haulers attended a public meeting in Kent to support the removal of that dam, in the face of some public opposition (people called it a “waterfall”).
In a compromise, the Kent Dam wasn’t completely removed; instead, it was bypassed, in a $3.8-million project that included construction of a public park. The work was completed on River Day, 2005. There is now a Class I-II “training-ground” section beginning at Brady’s Leap. It has a good surfing spot at some levels, Kent State University is renting out canoes and kayaks, and Kent is considering constructing a whitewater park there.
The Munroe Falls Dam also encountered local resistance. After all, the Village of Munroe Falls was named after this 12-foot Dam. But removal was approved, and as it began, a small rapid was found at its foundation. So the Village can retain its name. The removal of this dam took place in 2006, removing the two-mile-long dam pool upstream; a small park was constructed and completed in 2011. ODNR’s Steve Tuckerman has conducted studies which show “marked improvements of the fish community, including northern pike and smallmouth bass, less than 1 year after dam modifications in Kent and improved dissolved oxygen concentrations after the Munroe Falls dam removal.”

The Munroe Falls Dam (from ODNR)

After Removal of the Munroe Falls Dam (from ODNR)

Three Will Go
Removal of the Lefever and Sheraton Dams, at the beginning of the Upper Gorge in downtown Cuyahoga Falls, was scheduled for 2012. The City had $1 million dollars in grant money from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District for the removal of the dams and river restoration. It went out for bids, but was delayed by a sour-grapes protest by a company that didn’t get the bid. The city re-filed for bids, but this all cost five or six months. This meant that the dam removal would not begin prior to the August celebration of Cuyahoga Falls’ 200th anniversary, as originally intended. The project was fully approved in August of 2012, but again work has been delayed, as the Army Corps of Engineers has determined that it has some authority. It’s required core sampling of sediments—which has been done, and the samples are being analyzed.

Paddlers lining up to run the Lefever Dam, celebrating Cuya Falls’ Bicentennial.

Despite delays, this removal will happen. The Ohio EPA wants it, as do the US EPA, Cuyahoga Falls, and various stakeholders. The contract terms are that it must be completed within two years of the granting of the contract. The removal will begin in 2013 (subject to safe water levels), and the whole project must be finished by August 2014. The first dam to come out will be the Sheraton Dam, with its infamous hydraulic that has captured a few paddlers in its day. (See these photos and this article.) The project will retain the old Powerhouses at both dams for historic and structural reasons; parts of the dams will be used to restore them.

Soon, this hydraulic will be gone.

The third dam slated for removal is the Brecksville Dam. This one is a well-known lowhead, creating an insidious drowning machine, and restricting fish passage. As part of the consent decree related to removal of the CSOs (see next month’s article), the City of Akron is required to donate $900,000 to the project to remove this dam, in lieu of fines. Friends of the Crooked River has done a $120,000 study for this project. The Cuyahoga Valley National Park needs an Environmental Impact Statement. As of October 9, moneys were available for this EIS. One complication here is that some water at this dam is diverted for recreation—CVNP Cleveland MetroParks uses it for the Ohio & Erie Canal, both for a historical center and for beginners’ paddling classes. This dam will be removed, but the timing is not yet certain.

The Brecksville Dam at 11,000 cfs. Note the log on River Right, terminally surfing in the hydraulic. Photo by Cliff Wire.

The 100-Year-Old Monstrosity
This brings us to the Big One: the First Energy Dam in Gorge MetroPark. This dam, just upstream of the putin for the Lower Gorge, was built in 1914—drowning the impressive Class-IV or V cascade of waterfalls which the city was named for. It’s 59 feet tall and 400 feet wide. Originally used for hydropower, its hydro operations ceased in 1958. The dam pool upstream was used as cooling water for an upstream fossil-burning power plant until 1992, at which those operations also ended. Thus, it has had no useful purpose for twenty years.
Paddlers have long viewed the dam, its skanky pool (it’s some of the smelliest water I’ve ever paddled in), and photos of the gnarlistic rapid (the “Capacow”) that it’s put under several feet of water, and wondered “What if?” Personally, I recall asking at a public meeting in the 1990’s about removal of the dam. Akron’s Engineer, a conservative old guy, told me that I “don’t understand” issues of sedimentation, flood control, etc. How he could ascertain my level of understanding from one simple question, was quite beyond me.
The whole concept of this dam’s removal took a huge hit in the past decade, as a company named Advanced Hydro Solutions sought approval for a project to generate a small amount of hydropower from the water impounded by the dam. It took six years for stakeholders, including FoCR and MetroParks Serving Summit County, to defeat this proposal. AHS dropped its permit application in 2009 and ended the project.
So, we were back to “What if?” Well, at the Cuya Falls Bicentennial, Mayor Robart surprised many of us by predicting that it would be removed, perhaps in as little as five years.
Such removal is far more complicated than the four dams upstream. There are 832,000 cubic yards of sediment at the bottom of the dam pool. Considering the cities’ industrial past, it’s no surprise that these sediments include PCBs, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. Several stakeholders have been identified: MetroParks Serving Summit County, First Energy, the cities of Akron and Cuyahoga Falls, and Summit County—and that’s not counting FoCR, and other environmental and recreational groups. Any removal project would require at least five components:
  1. Feasibility Study
  2. Plan for Sediment Management
  3. Engineering Analysis
  4. Permit and Study Requests
  5. Funding Strategy.

  6. Damn that Dam! Stu Koster curses the concrete.

    A Request for Proposals for an Engineering Study on Removal will be out this year. With the two EPAs pushing for a cleaner Cuyahoga, we can expect this project to go forward. Elaine estimates that it will take about seven years. (I’m really looking forward to running the Capacow Rapid; how ‘bout you?)

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