All Things Dams

Dams, a Proud Cuyahoga History

pix1Once, dams dotted the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries. Early settlers built dams to grind grain and divert water for agriculture. In the 1820’s, dams were installed to channel water from the river into the Ohio & Erie Canal. Until the advent of the railroads in 1850’s, the canal was the major route of transporting goods to Lake Erie and Ohio River. The industrial age brought new needs for dams and water. Dams popped up next to factories so they could use the Cuyahoga’s water for processing, cooling and power. Two hydroelectric dams were built in Cuyahoga Falls to capture the prospective power of the river’s flow.


Akron Water Supply

Large dams were built in the Cuyahoga system to back-up water for residential and industrial use. In 1912, the City of Akron built the Lake Rockwell dam on the Cuyahoga River at Kent. This system in the upper Cuyahoga was expanded with two additional dams in 1932 and 1961. Currently, this system provides water for approximately 300,000 residents. Dams in the Portage Lakes area were originally built for additional industrial water. Now those dams are used for flood control and recreation. For more information about the City of Akron’s water supply, click here.

Uses of Dams

pix3Prior to our understanding of the substantial environmental impacts of dams and before our mid-twentieth century water quality crisis, society viewed dams as strictly beneficial and built them to accommodate a variety of needs. Many of those uses are mentioned above. As more dependable and less impactful methods were established for these purposes, most of the dams on the Cuyahoga became obsolete.

Friends of the Crooked River supports the removal or modification of all obsolete dams on the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries, where those removals are feasible. Click here for a summary of obsolete dams on the Cuyahoga. 

Environmental Impacts of Dams

Pix4By their nature, dams are temporary structures on rivers. They have a limited life span as time and the river will eventually lead to their end. While these barriers are intact, they negatively impact water quality significantly. They reduce dissolved oxygen, modify flow, trap toxins, prevent fish passage, interfere with sediment transport, alter the aquatic food web, increase algal growth, reduce benthic populations, vary water temperature and obstruct many inherent biological and chemical processes. Dams radically and negatively affect overall chemical water quality and aquatic life. In addition, the hydraulic waves created immediately downstream are death traps for paddlers and swimmers. For more on dams, see Dam Removal Project Overview (link to file in folder) Also visit, American Rivers.

Bringing down the Dams

pix 5You can’t just wake up one morning and decide to take down a dam. Dam removal is a process involving many studies that take years to complete and evaluate. Use analysis, historic valuation, biological surveys, geologic reviews, engineering studies, hydraulic impacts and cost estimates are just a few of the issues that must be formally reviewed. There are permits that must be obtained, stakeholder committees that must be formed, public support that must be built and costs that must be raised. The four completed Cuyahoga dam removals are a testament to years of hard work by countless individuals at a total cost of $8.6 Million.

Dams Down

pix 6
In the1990’s, under the direction of Ohio EPA, stakeholders began to study the effects of dams on the water quality of the middle Cuyahoga River. As a result of these efforts, the Middle Cuyahoga River Stakeholder’s committee was formed in 1999 and in 2000, produced an Ohio EPA report, the Middle Cuyahoga River TMDL. This report noted that the major causes of nonattainment of aquatic life standards in this 10-mile stretch of river were related to dams.

pix 7As a result, the dams at Kent and Munroe Falls were evaluated for removal and a minimum water release was pix 8mandated for Lake Rockwell. In 2005, the Kent dam was modified, creating one of most attractive and interesting public parks in Ohio. This internationally award-winning design set the tone for city’s economic and beautification efforts. In 2006, the Munroe Falls dam was removed and Brust Park created. Once inaccessible to the public, this new park is the site of festivals where thousands of people delight in the fishable, swimmable benefits of dam removal.

For a more technical and totally fascinating summary of these dams, see Case Studies of Dam Removal. 

Dam removal fever had hit the Cuyahoga in big way. The City of Cuyahoga Falls’ Mayor Don Robart, a great fan of the Cuyahoga River and its water quality, was favorably impressed with the results of the dam removal efforts upstream of his city. He led the way to remover two dams in 2013. Cuyahoga Falls Dam Removal Summary (PDF)

Watch a 2 minute video of the demolition to the tune of the William Tell Overture:

The removal and modification of these dams produced nearly immediate benefits including water quality improvements, public parks, canoe and kayak facilities and dramatic increase in public use of the river and its adjacent lands. Multi-purpose trails stretch to meet each other along the river’s edge. And a region-wide effort began to establish the Cuyahoga River Water Trail. Economic interests developed to take advantage of the scenic beauty, recreational opportunities and public access created by the dam removals.

Dams to Go

Friends of the Crooked River Dam Busters
Dam Busters

When all of the obsolete dams come tumbling down, it will be a magnificent victory for the River and people who will enjoy its benefits. We will have come full circle on understanding the true power of our River, sustaining its living systems.

Become a Dam Buster
Contact us.


Summary Sheet All Obsolete Dams (PDF)

Removing Dams on the Cuyahoga – FAQs

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