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Ohio EPA says dam hurts water quality
Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

John C. Kuehner

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency wants to remove or modify the dam that spans the Cuyahoga River between Sagamore Hills and Brecksville. This is one of many recommendations the Ohio EPA has made in a plan to clean up the Cuyahoga River from Munroe Falls to Lake Erie, a 44-mile section of the river that does not meet federal clean-water standards.

Federal law requires that communities have a plan to make waterways clean enough that people can swim and fish in them. The 14-foot-high dam hurts water quality for about 10 miles upriver in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said Bill Zawiski, an EPA scientist. "Ideally, we want it removed," Zawiski said. Water backs up behind the 163-year-old state-owned dam so that the Cuyahoga there is no longer a river but not quite a lake. Algae and decaying matter build up, depleting the oxygen in the water, which makes it hard for fish to survive. The dam blocks migrating fish altogether.

Removing the dam would open up almost half the river to free-flowing conditions and allow fish from Lake Erie to lay eggs in some of the Cuyahoga's cleanest tributaries, Zawiski said. Other ways to help the Cuyahoga River are not as easy. The river's big problem is its shortage of bugs and fish. But officials are unsure why there is that deficit.

They suspect high levels of nutrients in the river. The best way to control nutrients is to limit phosphorus, which comes from such sources as sewage-treatment plants and fertilizers. Sewage-treatment plants that discharge into the river and its tributaries may be required to make improvements, said Steve Tuckerman, a Cuyahoga River specialist with the Ohio EPA. Plants in Akron, Cuyahoga Heights, Solon, Streetsboro, Aurora and Twinsburg would face costly improvements to meet stricter discharge limits to be set by the state. But fixing the river's problems will take more changes, some out of EPA control:

Storm water runoff will have to be limited.

Natural barriers along the riverbank will have to be protected from development.

Combined sewers that overflow into the Cuyahoga and dump sewage containing bacteria, toxic chemicals and nutrients must be controlled.

Improperly maintained household septic systems must be fixed.

Wetlands destroyed in the Cuyahoga River watershed must be replaced within the watershed.

"If we can get everyone to do a little more, then hopefully no one person will bear the brunt," Zawiski said. "We're trying to do little steps at a time. We know things are getting better." The plan must be reviewed and approved by the federal EPA.

Removing the dam is a few years away. Before the dam can be torn down, state officials must solve another problem: How to keep water in the adjacent Ohio & Erie Canal. The dam provides water to an eight-mile stretch of the historic canal, the longest section of canal still full of water. How to keep the canal full must be studied, said Bill Carroll, Cuyahoga Valley National Park assistant superintendent.

"We don't have any major objections to it being removed," Carroll said. "We think it would enhance the river system."

The Ohio EPA will accept comments on the draft plan until July 31. Copies of the plan are available at the Ohio EPA's Twinsburg office, 2110 East Aurora Rd. Zawiski can be reached at 330-963-1134.


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