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Exposing some Cuyahoga falls
Two dams to be removed from the Cuyahoga River downtown

Mark Urycki
The upstream dam at Samira's restaurant, sometimes called the "powerhouse dam."
Courtesy of urycki
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The City of Cuyahoga Falls is celebrating its bicentennial this year and officials are hoping to uncover the very reason for their existence and their name. The big double falls of the Cuyahoga River that used to attract tourists have been underwater for almost 100 years.  And they will remain so.  But WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports city officials hope to begin removing two dams downtown this autumn to reveal some other natural falls.

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When Garrison Keillor hosted a Prairie Home Companion at Blossom Music Center in 2005, he thought Cuyahoga Falls looked more like a rapids. Three dams on the river even out the flow through the city.   

The Piatto Novo restaurant just out over the river from the Sheraton Suites Hotel. 

The large 25-foot drop occurs downstream somewhere,  close to the Ohio Edison or Gorge dam. That dam is likely to remain for a few years, but the Ohio EPA asked the city to knock down two smaller dams in the city’s downtown. The Environmental Supervisor for the Division of Surface Water in the EPA’s northeast district office, Bill Zawiski, says they’ve already removed dams on the Cuyahoga River in Kent and Munroe Falls.

“We don’t have the legal authority to order the dams to be taken out so we work with communities to say, ‘Is this an idea you guys are willing to embrace for water-quality improvements?’ And if they are, then we work with them to obtain funding and go through the permitting process.”

The Ohio EPA is funding both dam removals in Cuyahoga Falls.

Healthier water without dams
Even though the falling water from a dam aerates the water, which is good, the water backing up behind the dam, an impoundment, loses oxygen.

“It stratifies, so depth-wise, that near the bottom will have low oxygen. And the fish that we like to see in a healthy stream -- the darters and minnow species – will not live in an impounded section of water.”

Zawiski said they saw immediate improvement in water quality after removing dams in Kent and Munroe Falls, upstream of Cuyahoga Falls.  He says both bugs and fish are doing better. And there are other advantages to removing dams.  Zawiski say the riverbed is bedrock and it has enough drops in it to provide for good white-water kayaking.

 “What we’re going to see is an actual class 4 or class 5 rapids whitewater rapids through this section. The kayakers are going to really take advantage.”


For $1 million, contractors will bring in jack-hammers and slowly notch away the lower falls, near the Sheraton Hotel, first. That will lower the water, exposing more of the bedrock between the two locations. They have to be very careful not to damage the adjacent buildings. Then the jackhammers will crawl up the river to the powerhouse dam next to Samira’s restaurant. 

One risk is stirring up sediments that contain heavy metals, but Zawiski says tests have shown little danger. But downstream at the big Gorge Dam, is a huge amount of dangerous sediment. The Gorge dam or "Ohio Edison" dam backed water up near the old Ohio Edison generating plant.  One area business wanted to install hydro-electrical generators there but environmentalists and kayakers opposed the proposal. 

“There’s over 800 thousand cubic yards of sediment behind that pool that needs to be managed. That’s not something we will let move down through the national park.”   



The EPA is asking the federal government to further study how that sediment can be removed.  But Zawiski says someday the big dam will be removed. If that happens, the big falls that gave this city its name will again be visible.

City officials are now awaiting final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers so they can remove the two smaller downtown dams this autumn.  If it comes too late and water levels rise too much, they will hold off till next spring or summer.

Listener Comments:

I, for one, was mystified when I heard that the long-obsolete Ohio Edison Dam was being filled with concrete and have always been curious about why it was done, unless it was in danger of collapse. Strengthening something that it would be logical to remove in the near future didn't make a lot of sense to me.

Posted by: David Jameson (Tallmadge, Ohio) on March 28, 2014 1:03AM
Is it within the realm of possibility to have all the toxic sediment and all the dams removed within ten to fifteen years? I, for one, would like to see the falls as they once were and should be again. Our generation has much grievance with which to CURSE the generations that preceded us for denying us the pleasure of seeing natural wonders like Cuyahoga Falls and indeed a truly clean, pristine Lake Erie. Could we dare to hope for genetic engineering to bring back extinct species such as the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet and the Great Auk? In the meantime I think that we can more easily achieve a clean, damless Cuyahoga River which everyone thinks of even now as "the one that catches fire". Prove them wrong, people......

Posted by: David Stear (San Diego) on November 7, 2012 7:11AM
Good story, I had no idea that a resturant existed with that view.
Also, very impressive use of left and right alignment of the embedded pics. =)

Posted by: Joe (Kent) on October 9, 2012 1:10AM
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