The Essential Removal of Regional Low Dams

By Valerie Beerbower

There’s a lot of buzz about the river projects, particularly the plan that will remove a dangerous low dam from the Great Miami River. This low dam is located near the Dayton Art Institute, and once it’s removed, this section of river will be part of a 7-mile-long stretch. Bank stabilization features will include drops that will create fun “play” areas for kayakers.

But projects like this impact more than just paddle-sport enthusiasts. Five Rivers MetroParks is dedicated to protecting the Dayton area’s natural heritage, which means that projects like the RiverScape River Run also need to make a positive environmental impact.

The best way to see this in action is to review a similar project at Englewood MetroPark. In 2009, Five Rivers MetroParks began removing a low dam that was situated along the Stillwater River. Unlike the large earthen dams, low dams do not contribute to flood protection. They were mostly installed for aesthetics and are a detriment to the river’s health. The low dam at Englewood MetroPark actually caused the water to slow down, which increased the temperature and decreased the oxygen content in the water. This might not seem like it would make a big difference, but for the river’s smallest denizens, those few degrees and low oxygen levels are a matter of life and death.

According to information from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, macroinvertebrates are organisms that lack a backbone and are visible to the naked eye. In freshwater streams like the Stillwater, Mad and Great Miami rivers, they include insects, crustaceans (crayfish and others), mollusks (clams and mussels), gastropods (snails), oligochaetes (worms) and others. In most streams and rivers, the larval insects dominate the macroinvertebrate community. These organisms are an excellent resource for stream assessment.

They might not be pretty, but without these essential creek critters, there wouldn’t be larger, more “cuddly” predators hanging around. The macroinvertebrates obtain nutrients from plants and smaller organisms living in the water. From there, the food chain progresses to minnows, which can support larger fish species, which make tasty treats for the more popular riparian residents like bald eagles and river otters.

Once the low dam was removed from the Stillwater River, the water flow increased in its oxygen content and temperatures leveled out. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency released its 2011 study that found 28 species of fish and a significant rebound in the macroinvertebrate population. The EPA’s 2008 study found the impounded site leaped from an Invertebrate Community Index score of 34 in 2008 (pre-removal) to 52 in 2010—just one year after the dam was removed.

Other river-related projects in the pipelines at Five Rivers MetroParks include: the Wolf Creek restoration, the Mad River Run and the RiverScape River Run. Like the Englewood MetroPark low dam removal, there will be environmental rewards to these projects. The Mad River Run is in the final design stages and includes bank stabilization and flow control structures that have been missing since the creation of the large earthen dams in the early 20th Century. Controlling erosion is an important aspect of supporting viable river habitats, which is why bank stabilization projects are so important. Erosion washes sediment into the water, widening the riverbank and decreasing water flow, and increases water temperature from making riverbeds shallower. These effects impact the macroinvertebrates, which we already know make bigger ripples in the food chain if they disappear.

Construction began on the Wolf Creek bank stabilization project in 2010. Native plants have been installed along the river’s edge to slow erosion and create healthy habitat. Next up are trail improvements to Wesleyan MetroPark. These trails will help park visitors connect with Wolf Creek while mitigating any negative environmental impacts.

Downtown, the RiverScape River Run will feature natural stone, river-grade control structures, which will help control flow and create a play feature for kayakers. Anglers also will reel in the benefits of this project as fish habitat improves to support a broad array of species. These are all benefits to the RiverScape River Run, which plays a key role in the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan. The long-term goals of this project include attracting and retaining residents and job creators. It’s not a baseball field on an Iowa farm, but a river for which the community is banking on “if-you-built-it-they-will-come” success. Approximately $3.8 million has been raised through private donations so far, and now the remainder of the funding rests with Dayton’s engaged citizens. Visit for links to donate to the River Run project and more information about the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan.

River habitat restoration is important to support and sustain local wildlife, and with dedicated, forward-thinking citizens, it can be a boon to the food chain champs—humans!

Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at

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