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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Ohio: Middle Cuyahoga River

Dam Modification Project Helps Restore Water Quality

Waterbody | Problem | Project Highlights | Results | Partners & Funding

Waterbody Improved

OhioThe Kent Dam on Ohio's Middle Cuyahoga River was a barrier to fish migration and contributed to water quality problems due to stagnant flows within the dam pool, preventing the river from meeting its designated use for warmwater habitat (WWH). As a result of modifications to the dam that restored a free flowing river channel and other activities implemented both above and below the dam, the Cuyahoga River is now meeting the full attainment of its WWH aquatic life use designation, and it is expected to be removed from the state's 303(d) list of impaired waters in the next listing cycle.


Project Highlights

The Middle Cuyahoga River Restoration Project required consideration of complex science and engineering, cultural and archaeological sensitivity, regulatory finesse, and public involvement. The Kent Dam project initially faced fierce public resistance due to the dam's historic value and location in a designated historic district. The dam itself was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because it was one of the first recorded arched dams constructed in the United States.

An independent committee composed of the general public and various local, state, and federal representatives determined that the dam could be successfully modified without destroying its historic character. The project involved removing an old canal lock east of the dam to provide for a free-flowing river channel, while at the same time preserving and restoring the arched dam structure. The former dam pool area was converted into Heritage Park, and extensive interpretative signage chronicles the history of the area as well as the environmental benefits of the project. To further restore water quality and aquatic habitat, the project incorporated extensive natural stream channel and streambank restoration above the dam.

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Prior to the project, the Index of Biological Integrity (IBI)—an objective measurement of the diversity of the fish community—indicated that fish life within the river failed to meet WWH standards. Physical habitat conditions within and along the river were measured using the Qualitative Habit Evaluation Index (QHEI) and also failed to meet WWH standards.

Following completion of the Middle Cuyahoga Restoration Project, IBI scores within the Kent Dam area increased by 57 percent and QHEI scores increased by 56 percent. Modified Index of Well Being (MiWb) scores—used to measure the general health of fish communities within a waterbody—increased slightly from 8.2 to 8.9. As a result, the Cuyahoga River fully attained its WWH aquatic life use designation, and it is expected to be removed from the state's 303(d) list of impaired waters in the next listing cycle.

As an additional benefit, the city of Kent saved several million dollars in wastewater treatment upgrades that otherwise would have been required to address impairments caused by the dam. Developing the city of Kent's Heritage Park in the former dam pool also preserved an important connection to Ohio's history. Continued water quality improvements are expected upon the completion of additional projects such as modification of the dam downstream at the city of Munroe Falls.

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Partners and Funding

Ohio EPA Kent Dam Pool Bio-Survey Data
  Pre Post
IBI 28.0 44.0
MiWb 8.2 8.9
QHEI 51.0 79.5
WWH Criteria:
IBI ≥40;  MiWb≥7.9;  QHEI≥60

The city of Kent, in partnership with the cities of Ravenna and Massillon, Summit County, and agencies such as the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), secured more than $5 million for the Kent Dam Project. Funding was provided as follows: Ohio EPA's Clean Water Act (CWA) State Revolving Loan Fund's Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program—$3.94 million; The Clean Ohio Fund—$636,000; CWA section 319 Grant—$500,000; and ODNR—$6,400. The section 319 grant funds were used to restore degraded and exposed streambanks following removal of the dam pool.

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