Two Cuyahoga River low-head dams set for removal this year may still be around in 2013 if city officials don’t soon receive a federal permit that was applied for in mid-March.
The concrete dams – located near the Sheraton Suites and Samira restaurant – cannot be taken out without a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over navigable waterways.
Cuyahoga Falls Engineer Tony Demasi said he doesn’t know how much longer it will take for the city’s permit to work its way through the approval process.
“We hope it’s soon,” Demasi said. “We’re getting close to the date – not a specific one set on a calendar – that the contractor is likely to be unable to do work this year (due to temperatures).”
The dams are being removed to restore Cuyahoga Falls’ segment of the river so that it meets Ohio Water Quality Standards for aquatic life and habitat, and removing the dams is the path to meeting that goal.
According to one project document, dams negatively impact river systems by serving as barriers to fish migration and reduce fish habitat. They also act as sediment traps and modify water quality.
An Ohio Environmental Protection Agency project summary stated that the Cuyahoga River upstream of Cuyahoga Falls saw rapid improvements after modifications to the Kent dam in 2004 and removal of the Munroe Falls dam in 2008.
Successful completion of those projects showed improvement in biological water quality, habitat and elimination of low-dissolved oxygen concentrations in the dam pools.
The two dams in Cuyahoga Falls will be removed as one project, according to the Ohio EPA. Adjoining structures will be stabilized to prevent structural failure due to the change in water pressures, velocities and levels associated with dam removal.
Demasi said the process will be slow going, as contractors “will cut notches into each dam to lower the water a little bit at a time.”
A 2008 hydraulic engineering study confirmed the change in water levels will have no adverse effects on riverfront properties, the EPA reported.
And, in the end, Cuyahoga Falls will still have water falls.
“Instead of one waterfall right there at the Sheraton, when the dam comes out there are natural waterfalls within the river that no one has seen in 100 years,” he explained.
With planning efforts under way to remove or modify the Gorge and Brecksville dams in the next several years, removal of the two Cuyahoga Falls dams is critical to the continued restoration of the Cuyahoga River watershed, the EPA reported.
Once all of the planned dam removals are completed, the lower 59 miles (about two-thirds of the river length) of the Cuyahoga River will be free-flowing.