Cuyahoga River, Ohio
Located in northeast Ohio, the Cuyahoga River has ironically become a symbol for both the industrial and the environmental movements in the United States. One hundred miles in length, the Cuyahoga flows straight through the heart of Cleveland’s industrial zone and is notorious for emptying into Lake Erie, just 30 miles west of its headwaters. Historically, the river was used for agriculture, supplying electricity and transporting goods throughout the region. When the height of the industrial revolution hit, the Cuyahoga was so heavily dammed, diverted and polluted, that what remained was only embarrassingly referred to as a river.
You can learn more about the history of the broader Cuyahoga cleanup in our storymap.
In 1999, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that deteriorating aquatic habitat along a 10 mile stretch on the river was related to the dams at Kent, Munroe Falls, Gorge and Cuyahoga Falls (the site of both Lefever Powerhouse and Sheraton Mills Dam). All five dams served to generate hydropower for local businesses or industrial water supply but were decommissioned eleven years prior to the infamous 1969 fire.
As the river’s health was deteriorating more and more each day, the decision to remove and modify four of the five dams was made. It was a huge undertaking with a cost of $8.6 million, but with the help of many partners and stakeholder groups, the project was successful. People were reconnected to the river with new public parks and a water trail, and the fish community showed marked improvement.
Dam Removal Benefits
- After 70 years, bald eagles have returned to nest along the banks of the river
- The first twenty-five miles of the Cuyahoga have been designated as a state scenic river because of its significant recreational, natural and historic characteristics
- Native plants are growing along formerly muddy river banks, providing stabilization, reducing sedimentation and enhancing the aesthetics of the river
- The morphology, hydrology and geomorphology have been restored to a healthy functioning state
- Dissolved oxygen levels at the Kent Dam site have improved and levels at the Munroe site have partially improved
- Public parks and open spaces created: Franklin and Tannery Park at Kent Dam were expanded, and the design of a new park that utilized part of the old dam structure was awarded and internationally recognized; Brush Park, a community park at Munroe, was also constructed, providing public access to a section of the river that, prior to the dam removal, was entirely inaccessible
- To the delight of paddlers and others, rapids appeared again that were hidden by water and sediment
- Canoeing and kayaking facilities were added on the river along a hike and bike trail, enhancing economic development and aesthetics
- There have been huge increases in public recreational use of the river
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has stated that this project, “is now an inspiration, demonstrating how people can heal a damaged river.” Currently, the remaining Gorge and Brecksville dams are being studied for removal and could come down by 2023.