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Removal of Gorge Dam will drastically improve water quality, recreation, tourism, Summit Metroparks says

Posted at 5:13 PM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 19:51:57-05

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — A multi-million dollar project is underway to tear down the Gorge Dam in Akron.

The Gorge Dam, no longer functioning, is one of the last unresolved water quality issues on the Cuyahoga River. Its removal is expected to cost around $130 million.

“This really is a beneficial project. It's not just good for the environment. It's going to be good for the recreational use of the park,” said Mike Johnson, Chief of Conservation for Summit Metroparks.

The first step in removing the concrete behemoth is the removal of sediment from the reservoir. The dam itself doesn’t serve any flood control purposes and its removal will have no impact on flooding up or downstream.

“Dams basically turn river water into a stagnant pool,” Johnson said. “They change the chemical nature of the water behind them here at the Gorge Dam. That impact lasts for about a mile and a half.”

The Gorge Dam was originally built in 1913 as a source of hydropower for generating electricity. According to a release from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office, which recently announced funding to help tear down the dam, no power has been generated there since 1958.

“It was never very productive. That's because of the unpredictable flows of the Cuyahoga,” Johnson said. “The Cuyahoga is just not quite big enough for effective hydroelectric production.”

A mile-and-a-half-long pool has been created by the blockage. It impedes the free movement of fish and wildlife up and down the river and has created water quality concerns in recent years.

“Many of the fish that we have in our river and...in the Lake Erie drainage are migratory,” Johnson said. “When people think of migratory fish, they usually think of salmon. And that's true. Salmon are migratory, but a lot of our native fish are also migratory. Dams impact their ability to reach spawning grounds.”

Crews are working on removing roughly one-million cubic yards of sediment in the pool behind the dam. It’s contaminated, but not toxic, and needs to be safely contained at a separate site.

The sediment will be pumped out and contained permanently at a location at Cascade Valley Metropark.

“The sediment is contaminated, but not toxic. So it's a lower level of contamination and that all has to be safely dredged and contained at a separate site,” Johnson said.

The entire project will return the Cuyahoga to a free-flowing river from Kent to the mouth of Lake Erie, drastically improving water quality, recreation and tourism in the area.

“When the dam is removed, the historic natural waterfall that the dam is built on top of will be restored,” Johnson said. “That waterfall is the namesake of Cuyahoga Falls.”

Last month, Governor DeWine and the Ohio EPA announced the state would contribute $25 million towards the project. The planning process for the dam’s removal is expected to be completed this spring. Removal of the dam is expected to take about five years total.

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