Don't count on seeing those category five whitewater rapids in the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Falls this summer. But there's a good chance you'll be riding them next year.
Deconstruction of the and dams on the Cuyahoga River will begin right after the city’s , said Cuyahoga Falls engineer Tony Demasi. If all goes well, the dams could be down by Dec. 1.
“A lot of work that we’re going to be doing is going to be behind the scenes,” Demasi said. "Designs need to be finalized and permits need to be approved before the Army Corps of Engineers and the contractors can start work on the river. We may not see any construction until September or October.”
Previous delays and have stalled the process to remove the nearly 100-year-old dams and restore the Cuyahoga River. The project is paid for with a $1 million grant from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewage District through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Archeologists will be on hand
The Cuyahoga Falls Department of Engineering will select a team of contractors next week. Bids for the job range between $960,000 and $980,000. All of the teams bidding for the job include environmental scientists, contractors, engineers and archaeologists, who will be on hand in case artifacts are unearthed.
“Who knows what we’ll find,” Demasi mused. “We could find shopping carts, bikes, a car. Hopefully, it’s not just junk. Hopefully, it’s things that are precious to our city that we can look at and give us some background on our history.”
Demasi said there's also the possibility of finding previous dams that have been covered with water and flooded once the current dams were built. There have been dams of all shapes and sizes along the Cuyahoga since 1812, Demasi said.
Originally built in 1914
The dams were built in 1914 to generate power and later electricity. The Samira dam, 11 feet high, was originally used for the Walsh Paper Company. The Sheraton dam, 7 feet high, was built for the , a mill that produced steel, rubber, copper and clay products. The turbines used to convert water flow into energy have long been removed, but the dams remained.
“They’ve never been removed for whatever reason,” Demasi said. “They’ve just been sitting there.”
The engineering department and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have been discussing the dam removals since 2007. The Ohio EPA conducted a study on the river’s environmental health in 2003. The EPA found progress has been made since the Clean Water Act of 1976, but the dams are an impediment to optimal water quality because they interfere with the river’s oxygen, phosphorus and nitrogen levels.
Allowing the river to heal itself
Once the dams are removed, the water level will go down, flow faster and more shoreline will be exposed. Measurements of the river show it will also produce category four and five whitewater rapids.
Ultimately, the goal is for the river to look like there were never any dams. Demasi said the dams will be sliced into chunks the size of desks and either removed or re-used along some of the banks.
“We’re going to take a step back and see what the river’s going to do,” he said. “We want it to heal itself, go wherever it wants to be, but we’re going to have the ability to go in and see if it needs a little help here, a little help here,” he said gesturing with his hands, adding they might plant some trees or shrubs native to the area. The EPA will also monitor the river.
Kayaking, canoeing and whitewater rafting
Meanwhile, the Department of Parks and Recreation has hired Colorado-based Mclaughlin Whitewater Design Group to do an inital assessment of recreational opportunities for everyone, not just the experts, for kayaking, canoeing and whitewater rafting upstream of the Sheraton dam.
“There are already category four whitewater rapids beneath the Sheraton dam. That’s a little bit beyond recreation,” said Ed Stewart, assistant superintendent in the Department of Parks and Recreation. “What we’re looking at is what opportunities we may have a little more upstream when the dams come down as a truly recreational form of whitewater rafting and where we would have access to get in and out of the river.
“Once the dams come down and we get a better view of what we have, that’s when the real work will be done to see what we have and what we can do.”