January 10, 2011 - Ballville Dam removal; Lake Erie wind

Monday, January 10, 2011

As many dams in America are approaching their centenary years, dam owners face pressures to maintain or upgrade their infrastructure to comply with safety or environmental regulations - or else face dam removal.  Located outside Fremont, Ohio, the Ballville Dam now faces this choice.

Constructed in 1911, the Ballville Dam was built on the Sandusky River about a dozen miles upstream from Lake Erie to impound and direct water into a downstream hydroelectric station.  The dam is 34.4 feet high and over 300 feet long.  In 1946, the downstream hydroelectric facility ceased generation.  In 1959, the city of Fremont bought the Ballville dam for water supply.  In the ensuing 50 years, issues including upkeep and maintenance costs for the dam led the city to create an alternative reservoir to replace the dam.  The dam has been implicated in fish passage problems, and its removal is anticipated to open up over 22 miles of habitat to gamefish like walleye.  The dam has also been implicated in problems with ice jams above Fremont.  All this, without a revenue stream from the dam, has led Fremont to work towards dam removal.  Fremont has since won approximately $6 million dollars in grant funding to support dam removal, which is slated for summer 2011.

If the dam is removed, large amounts of backed up sediment - including a contaminant burden of heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons - will either come with it or be swept downstream into Lake Erie.  A report suggests 350,000 cubic meters of sediment may need to be removed to establish the channel of the Sandusky River through the impoundment.  However, the report suggests that the sediment pollutant concentrations are less than or equal to those in existing Lake Erie sediment, and thus that mixing with the lake would dilute any effects.

Interestingly, the Ballville Dam has faced trouble before.  Two years after its construction, the dam failed due to poor anchoring into the sediment, causing serious flooding in Fremont.  Today's dam was rebuilt using a stronger foundation. In 1913, the dam served a useful purpose: supporting the nearby hydroelectric station.  In 2011, without that support for hydroelectric generation, will the Ballville Dam be removed?

Meanwhile, on Lake Erie, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation continues to make progress toward the nation's first inland offshore wind development: five wind turbines in state waters about 7 miles off Cleveland.  Great Lakes wind offers many of the advantages of both terrestrial and oceanic wind, while posing other challenges.  Will the Lake Erie project be the first to reach success?

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