Spring '09

From the President

By David G. Barber

Recently, I was sent an editorial and article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer written as part of a series on the Cuyahoga River.  Also included were various blog entrees sent in by the newspaper’s readers in response to the editorial and article. All of them discussed concerns about the Brecksville Dam that supplies water to the watered section of the Ohio and Erie Canal in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The dam at this site, just south of the Ohio Route 82 bridge, was built as part of the canal project to supply water to the canal north to Cleveland. After the canal closed to navigation, the dam, feeder, and canal northward continued in use to supply water to steel mills located on the south side of Cleveland near Harvard Avenue. In this use, the original wood crib dam was replaced by a concrete structure located just downstream. As a result, water continues to flow down the canal through Locks 37 – 40 including Lock 38 at the National Park Visitors’ Center. Lock 38 has been restored and is gated and used to demonstrate lock operation. The park service is currently replacing the aqueduct over Tinker’s Creek to continue the watering of the canal.

The problem is that dams like this one are anathema to some environmentalists on general principles and as they prevent fish migration. They are also said to reduce stream quality. But, I wonder if this is more a generalization that the result of specific, scientific, defendable study of this particular site. The anti dam folks are on a crusade to remove any and all dams including this one.

The letters submitted were interesting. Some said that the dam should be removed even though it would degrade the park. Others said the dam should be replaced by pumps, but I doubt that the operating costs of these would survive future budget cuts. Others said that turning the watered canal into a dry ditch was fine. There were also suggestions that replacing the lock operation demonstrations with a “virtual” simulation was just as good. Fortunately, this sort of thinking is counteracted by those who like a watered canal.

In all of this, I think that many don’t understand engineering. The original and replacement structures were built to supply water to the canal at minimum cost. That would have been the objective the engineers worked to. If other factors are to be included, such as fish migration or safety over a low head dam, that is a redefinition of the goal and a new design can be produced that meets all of the now defined needs at some other cost. Then it is a matter of financing the construction costs of that solution.

One thing that I think reduces the value of this canal section is the lack of boats to carry the public through the lock. Then the public would get the whole experience. Such boats don’t have to be replicas. They could be metal ones with electric power. Or they could be outboard powered such as the ones that the Park Service uses on the canals in Lowell, MA. Even better, would be the restoration and regating of locks 37, 39, and 40 so that such tour boats could navigate the whole watered stretch. The more used the canal is, the better it will educate the public and be protected from the well intended “anti” forces.

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