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Cuyahoga River

The Cuyahoga Falls dam removal video you’ve been waiting for

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

This summer we were treated to not one but two dam removals on the Cuyahoga River, ~10 miles downstream from Kent. Those following me on twitter know that I obsessed about these removals all summer long, first as they were delayed by weeks of high water, then as they got started and I got to watch first on the live “dam cam” and then in person. But the video compresses a whole summer of waiting, watching, and obsessing into two and a half glorious minutes, complete with music. This is, without a doubt, what youtube was invented for.*

If that dam removal video merely served to whet your appetite for dam busting, I have a few other videos you might enjoy. First, there’s there’s an excellent 8 minute documentary on Marmot Dam on the Sandy River, Oregon, which explains the science that led up to this removal, features the excitable Gordon Grant, and shows the action unfolding. If you just want to cut to the action, you can’t beat the “blow and go” (that would be the technical term) of the Condit Dam removal in Washington. Finally, a feature length movie called DamNation is coming our way in 2014. I’m so excited, I can hardly stand it. I’m going to go watch the videos a few more times.

*Youtube was also invented for flash flood videos, videos of people running rapids on the Grand Canyon, the Lake Peigneur disaster video, and corny videos produced by sewer districts about CSOs.

Elementary students narrate the history of the Kent Dam

In various places around Kent, visitors with a smart phone can scan a QR code and watch a short video about the historical significance of that location. This super-cool project was actually done by students at one of the local elementary schools, with funding from the NEH and the help of Kent State University’s Research Center for Educational Technology and the Kent Historical Society.

Below, let them tell you about one of our town’s fluvial icons.

After the dam came out: The Cuyahoga River in Kent

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

We’ve been having one of those perfect spring weeks, where the weather is warm and sunny, the flowers are blooming, and there is nothing more enticing at the end of a workday than to take a nice long wander down by the local river. Fortunately, I can do that right from my front door – exploring the Cuyahoga River, as it flows through Kent. I’ve blogged a couple of times already about the Cuyahoga, but today I want to share some views that I couldn’t have shared 10 years ago, because they would have been underwater.

Sepia-toned photo of dam and train station

Kent Dam with canal lock and towpath behind it, in this undated photo from

For 168 years, a dam stood across the Cuyahoga River, under the main street bridge, and impounded water for a couple of miles upstream. In 2004, the dam was modified to let the river be free-flowing through town. The arched stone dam face was preserved but the remnants of a Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal lock structure were removed, creating a narrow chute in the river where once there was a full blockage. After the reservoir drained, some of the sediments were regraded to form a well-signed little heritage park behind the dam.

dam, arched bridge, small town bucolic scene

Looking upstream at the dam in August 2012. In the summer, water is recirculated to a trough at the top of the dam in order to give the illusion of a waterfall. On beautiful spring evenings, like this week, the park behind the dam is filled with people enjoying the weather…or studying.

tunnel, river, rocks, sun

Looking downstream through an arch of the Main Street bridge at the remaining section of the dam on the right and the former lock, now river on the left. Photo April 30, 2013.

Above the dam site, the river is confined to a fairly narrow bedrock gorge with class 2 rapids. In a few places you can easily get down to it and see some nicely potholed rock in the riverbed. Kayakers call this a pin spot.

rock outcrop next to a river

Looking upstream from the pin spot on the Cuyahoga in Kent. Co-blogger and the High Albedo geo-dog for scale.

While we were wandering down there a few evenings ago, we met an angler who caught and released two small trout from the river in the space of about five minutes. There was no fish passage around the Kent Dam before it was removed, so I’m taking the trout as a good sign of some ecological recovery in this section of the river. Another good ecological sign has been spotted a few miles downstream. Rebuilding of another bridge over the river in Kent has been delayed so that endangered native mussel beds can be relocated.

river bedrock revetment mills

Looking downstream from the pin spot between Main St and Crain Ave. Look closely for the angler near the river.

I know that the dam removal decision in 2004 was controversial in the community – generations had grown up with the dam as a local landmark and it was on the National Register of Historic Places – but when I walk along this section of the river, I am impressed not only by the wonderful ecology and geomorphology of this little river that runs through our downtown, but I’m also impressed by the community’s embrace of the free-flowing Cuyahoga. On this day, so important to Kent’s history, it gives me hope that we can overcome the wrongs and divisions of the past and work together to make a better future for both our communities and the world around us.

The Great Flood of 1913

The 100th anniversary of Ohio’s greatest disaster is just days away. This epic hydro-meteorological event utterly ravaged river towns from Illinois to Ohio and beyond, but it seems like the event has largely been forgotten in history’s annals. Even flood-obsessed me had lived in Ohio for a few months before I even began to piece together the full extent of the disaster. For a crash course in the events of March 23rd-27th, 1913, navigate through this Prezi:

If you want to know more, there’s lots of details at the Silver Jackets’ 1913 Flood website and you can follow along as historian Trudy Bell researches a book on the flood.

Collecting Data on the Cuyahoga River in Kent

Next week my Urban Hydrology class embarks on their first project: exploring the potential water quality changes in the Cuyahoga River as it flows through the City of Kent, which is really the first good-sized town on its path to Lake Erie.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll be doing, and you can click through to the attached document to get more details.

Beginning February 5th, we’ll be collecting near-daily water quality measurements of Cuyahoga River water as it flows through Kent. Using the data we collect, we’ll attempt to answer the following questions:
• How does water quality change as the river flows through an urban area?
• How does water quality vary with respect to discharge in the Cuyahoga River?

Each student will sign up for one weekday on the class calendar. On the assigned day, that student will be responsible for taking a suite of measurements at 2-4 locations. The measurements we will take are (1) turbidity, (2) specific conductance, and (3) temperature and we will also collect water samples for later analysis on the Picarro water isotope analyzer. Each student will be required to take one set of measurements at the base of the steps just upstream of Main Street and one set of measurements at the beach just downstream of Summit Street. Students with access to cars are also encouraged to take measurements at the River Bend Road boat launch (at Kent’s upstream end) and at the Middlebury Road boat launch (at Kent’s downstream end). Details of each measurement technique and each site are [in the linked document].

Trail and stairs going down to river. Patches of snow and ice in the scene.

River access just upstream of the Main Street bridge in Kent. This is one of the spots we’ll be using to sample the river.