Dam problems still lie ahead for city

Douglas M. Kafury

A portion of the Kent Dam was recently removed due to problems with dissolved oxygen levels, but there are still other problems arising with the dam.

Credit: Andrew popik

The city of Kent faced problems when it made the decision to remove a portion of the Kent Dam in 2002, but some problems may still lie ahead.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency forced Kent to remove a portion of its dam in compliance with the Clean Water Act of 1972.

During the summer, there was not enough dissolved oxygen in the water of the Cuyahoga River because the water was becoming stagnant from sitting behind the dam, said Andrew Moore, assistant professor in the geology department. If levels of dissolved oxygen drop too low, it can result in death of aquatic life.

“They opened up the lock a little bit, and they have channeled all of the water from the Cuyahoga through what used to be the lock way,” Moore said.

He said dams act as a very efficient barrier to sediment, and that sediment could contain pollutants.

“We are dealing with a very early industrialized part of the country,” Moore said. “Before there were a lot of environmental regulations, a lot of chemicals that we probably don’t want to deal with got into the river. A lot of those chemicals adhere to sediment; a lot of that sediment is still sitting behind those dams. When the dams come down, something has to happen to the sediment.”

However, there wasn’t much sediment behind the dam because it was flushed on a yearly basis, so the potential for a problem decreased significantly, Moore said.

Robert Heath, a biology professor and director of the Water Resources Research Institute, said there was a more important problem involved with removing the dam. The Cuyahoga River is supplied with water from Lake Rockwell, and during some low flow times throughout the year, the river will not get enough water.

“Unless they agree to allowing enough water to flow during some low water times during the summertime, the whole river is going to dry up,” said Heath, who also testified to Kent City Council regarding the issue. “Of course there’s nothing less functional than a dry river.”

With the possibility of the city ridding itself of one of its most notable historical landmarks, there was also contention from historical conservationists, said Robert Carlson, a biology professor.

“It has altered a historical landmark in the city,” Carlson said.

But a deal was made in order to preserve the dam and improve the water quality.

The attention now falls on the Munroe Falls Dam, which is also slated for removal, Carlson said.

“The controversy now is down into the Munroe Falls Dam, which is the one Kent actually affects,” Carlson said. “Our sewage goes into the Cuyahoga below the Kent dam. Kent’s sewage treatment plant is downstream of [Kent’s dam] as is one of the Stow plants, so they’re all affecting the Munroe Falls Dam.”

The process of removing the lock began in September 2003 and concluded in October 2004.

The middle Cuyahoga River, which extends from the Lake Rockwell Reservoir in Akron to the Waterworks Park in Cuyahoga Falls, was the first river in Ohio to be dealt with, Moore said.

Contact sciences reporter Douglas M. Kafury at [email protected].