Case Study: St. John's Dam Removal Project, Sandusky River
The St. Johns Dam was located on the Sandusky River upstream of the City of Tiffin in Seneca County. The dam was identified in the 2003 Sandusky Basin Report as a significant cause of non-attainment of the designated warm water habitat aquatic life use. In addition, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Division of Water determined that the dam was unsafe and had to be either repaired or demolished. the dam was considered a significant cause of water quality impairment to the Sandusky River, and would be very costly to repair, removal options were explored. ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP), Scenic Rivers Section, approached the owner and offered to pay for removal of the structure through the Scenic Rivers License Plate Fund. Later, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) also agreed to help fund the project conditioned upon receiving stream mitigation credits for restoration of the dam-pooled area. ODOT, ODNR and the dam owner worked with Ohio EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) to gain approval for the dam removal and mitigation credits. The dam was successfully removed in November 2003. Initial qualitative project results look promising, and the project partners plan to continue monitoring the effects of the dam removal over the next five years.
The St. Johns dam was erected in the late 1800s and bought by the Ohio American Water Company (OAWC) in 1935. OAWC made improvements in 1942. The structure was used to create a reserve water source in the event that the water plant in Tiffin needed supplemental water. ODNR Division of Water inspected the dam in 1999, and ordered OAWC to repair or destroy the dam because of safety issues. The OAWC had the dam evaluated and determined that it would cost $300,000.00 make necessary repairs. In 2003, ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP), Scenic Rivers Section, approached OAWC and offered to pay for the removal of the structure through the Scenic Rivers License Plate Fund, conditioned upon ODNR receiving ownership of the structure and adjacent land.
ODNR was granted right of entry to remove the structure in 2003, and received a determination of no jurisdiction for Application No. 2003-00586 (0) from the USACE Buffalo District Regulatory Branch dated January 27, 2003. In this letter, the USACE stated that if all concrete debris generated as a result of the dam removal was removed from the river to an upland location during the same day the dam was demolished, that a finding of no jurisdiction would be warranted.
In March 2003, the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) employed ODNR Division of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to remove the dam. In May 2003, the CCC breached the dam (removed approximately fifteen feet of the dam on the left descending bank of the Sandusky River). Due to fiscal constraints the CCC program was eliminated in June 2003.
Because ODOT has an ongoing need to provide stream mitigation for past and future transportation projects, ODNR approached ODOT for assistance to complete the dam removal in June 2003. ODOT agreed to participate in the dam removal project, contingent on the regulatory resource agencies (USACE and Ohio EPA) agreeing to allow ODOT use of the St. Johns Dam Removal project as a "pooled stream mitigation area," whereby ODOT would be able to use the resulting stream restoration to mitigate ODOT transportation projects.
To begin the necessary steps to accomplish this task, between March and June 2003 ODOT conducted ecological evaluations of the fourteen miles of impounded area (including the main stem of the Sandusky River and the tributaries to the Sandusky River within the impounded area) on the Sandusky River behind the St. Johns Dam.
Upon completion of the fieldwork, ODOT Office of Environmental Services sought approval from Ohio EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers-Buffalo District on the establishment of the site as a pooled stream mitigation area. Ohio EPA agreed that the dam removal was a valid stream mitigation project. Thus 79,755 linear feet could be established as mitigation credits, with the possibility of additional "secondary credits."
On August 11, 2003, ODOT submitted the project to the USACE Buffalo District and met with them on the following day to discuss the proposed project as a pooled stream mitigation area. While ODOT did not receive a written concurrence on the project, the USACE-Buffalo District agreed "in concept" to the proposed project being utilized as a pooled stream mitigation area. The final approval(s) and mitigation framework for the St. Johns Dam pooled stream mitigation area will occur directly in the final 404 permit and 401 Water Quality Certification.
Some of the expected ecological benefits that will be gained by completing the project include:
Removal of the St. Johns Dam
Final dam removal plans were prepared by ODOT and a contract for the demolition and removal of the St. Johns Dam was awarded by ODOT on October 22, 2003. During the week of November 17, 2003, Mosser Construction successfully completed the demolition and removal of the St. Johns Dam. Representatives of ODOT-OES, ODNR, and The Ohio State University were present for the dam removal. By the end of construction day one, riffle/run complex immediate upstream of the impounded area had appeared (see Figures 1 and 2).
On June 29, 2004, staff from ODNR and ODOT canoed the eight-mile stretch of the former dam pool to evaluate stream morphology and the effects of the dam removal. Staff encountered five new riffle run complexes that had formed naturally under the new flow regime. These initial results are encouraging. A more comprehensive analysis of the effects of the dam removal project will be conducted during a five-year monitoring period, discussed below.
A research team has been assembled to conduct a comprehensive five-year pre- and post-removal study, which has never been done before in Ohio, to see how a formerly impounded river naturally recovers over time. The monitoring team includes: ODNR Divisions of Geological Survey, Natural Areas and Preserves, Water and Wildlife; OSU; and Heidelberg College Water Quality Lab.
The ODNR monitoring efforts will be funded, in part, from state scenic river license plate profits.
Based on preliminary qualitative evaluations of the mitigation project, it is expected that the dam removal will result in improved water quality and eventual attainment of the Warm Water Habitat designated use in the affected segment of the stream. The project partners are hopeful that this study can be used to help promote additional dam removal projects in Ohio.
For additional information on this project please contact:
Bob Gable, Scenic Rivers Manager
Bob Vargo, Scenic Rivers- Northwest OH
Donald E. Rostofer, Environmental Specialist 2
Michael Pettegrew, Environmental Supervisor
Special thanks to the Ohio Department of Transportation Office of Environmental Services for providing the information used to compile this case study.
Figure 1. St. Johns Dam on the Sandusky River, prior to dam removal
Figure 2. Site of former St. Johns dam immediately after dam removal. Note the riffle/run complex that is beginning to form naturally in the location of the former dam pool.