The Kent Dam and waterfall have been among the most recognizable and highly regarded features of our city for many years. Recently, due to a failure to meet water quality standards governed by the Ohio EPA and the Clean Water Act, The City of Kent had to consider various options of modifying the Kent Dam Pool. Keeping in mind the interests of many concerned individuals and institutions, the City Administration has proposed a solution that it believes will best serve the environmental, historic, and aesthetic concerns regarding this significant structure.
A historical interpretive park in the area directly behind the dam is depicted in the rendering above. This park will be an aesthetically pleasing addition to Riveredge Park and will highlight the history of the site and improve access to the Kent Dam and the river’s edge. It will also cost less than an artificial off-line dam pool, potentially saving sewer customers hundreds of thousands of dollars. A water channel will also be installed behind the dam to allow pumped water to flow over the dam to maintain the waterfall. All of the features discussed will insure the continued beautification of the downtown area, while simultaneously addressing the historical and environmental concerns necessary to improve the health of the Cuyahoga River.
In 1836 a dam was constructed on the Cuyahoga River near downtown Kent. The project included the installation of a canal lock, which would allow canal boats to maneuver up and down the river and a mill race to power various industrial mills located below the dam. For that time in history the dam and canal lock was a very important commercial asset, which played a decisive role in the development of the City. While the canal was abandoned by 1869, the mill race continued to be utilized for another 40 years until the 1904 flood washed away the top portion of the dam. The great flood of 1913 decimated the milling business in Kent as a large portion of the canal lock and dam were destroyed. The Kent Dam lay in disrepair until 1924 when a local company teamed up with the citizens of Kent and spent $6,655 towards a dam restoration project, which resulted in the Kent dam that currently exists today. The Kent Dam is part of the Kent Historical District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Recent research efforts have indicated that the Kent Dam is the 4th oldest dam in Ohio and the only dam remaining in Ohio originally built in the 1800’s of stone masonry.
The Ohio EPA has formally identified the Kent Dam as a significant cause of water quality problems associated with the Cuyahoga River. These concerns are revealed in the Ohio EPA Middle Cuyahoga River TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) report issued in March of 2000. The report explains that during the warm summer months the mile long pool of water behind the dam stagnates and cannot hold sufficient dissolved oxygen to meet water quality standards established by the Ohio EPA and the Clean Water Act. The depleted oxygen level creates an environment where viable aquatic life cannot survive within the dam pool. The dam has also been identified as a barrier to migrating fish and the associated dam pool creates aquatic habitat non-typical of a reverie environment. Guided by the fact that the Ohio EPA has the legal authority to issue more stringent discharge limits at the City’s wastewater treatment plant to improve Cuyahoga River water quality, the administration evaluated the EPA’s alternative recommendation to modify or eliminate the Kent Dam for the purpose of meeting the standards of the Clean Water Act. This Alternative would eliminate the stagnant dam pool and restore the area to a natural free-flowing river. It should be understood that the issuance of more stringent limits at the wastewater treatment plant would be very costly to the citizens of Kent and have no benefit in meeting water quality standards in the Kent Dam pool area.
Over the past few years the Kent has thoroughly investigated a multitude of avenues and options. This feasibility and designing work has been funded through a sponsorship grant from the City of Massillon and Ohio EPA. The one fact that emerged as the top priority was that a majority of Kent citizens desired to retain the Kent Dam and associated waterfall. Therefore in summer of 2002, Kent City Council endorsed the consultant’s and City Administration recommended alternative to install a river bypass channel around the Kent Dam which would 1) meet the water quality standards of the Clean Water Act; 2) avoid costly discharge limits at the wastewater treatment plant; 3) allow canoe and kayak navigation around the dam, and 4) more importantly allow the Kent dam to remain in it’s current location and maintain the waterfall over the dam. The bypass channel will occupy the eastern side of the river at the current location of the canal lock remnants. The riverbed will be restored to a more natural condition, similar to the setting that is currently located downstream of the Kent Dam. The City of Ravenna and Ohio EPA will provide grant funding for a portion of the construction phase of the project along with other potential funding sources currently being pursued.