Study tests 2 Ohio rivers for dam removal effects

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Researchers are studying two Ohio rivers to learn more about the effects on waterways of removing dams.

A team of researchers at Ohio State University are testing and monitoring sections of the Olentangy and Scioto Rivers in the Columbus area where two dams came down last year, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/QLQPTA) reported.

Dams have backed up waterways' natural flow for decades, and scientists know that they adversely affect rivers and their surrounding habitat. Fish and sediment can't flow back upstream, and dams choke off fish and mussels and the insects that provide food for many fish species. Even birds and mammals are forced to change their behaviors. But scientists are still trying to determine the effects of removing dams.

"It's a pretty new science," said Mazeika Sullivan, an assistant professor of aquatic-riparian ecology in OSU's School of Environment and Natural Resources.

But two dams that came down last year -- one on the Olentangy near Ohio State and one on the Scioto near downtown Columbus -- are opening up new research opportunities.

"We're hoping that the data collected on this project will help us estimate the impact of future dam removal in other parts of the state," said Ken Heigel, chief engineer for the Ohio Water Development Authority that is helping fund the research.

Ohio has more than 4,000 dams, with most being low-head dams -- structures designed to recreate a pool or lake of water.

But some have been torn down in recent years, including four along the Olentangy in Delaware County north of Columbus.

Officials and wildlife experts said the silver shiner, stonecat madtom, banded darter and brindled madtom are among the fish species that reappeared where one dam was removed in 2008. The endangered purple wartyback mussel was found downstream from where another dam had stood.

The study involves collecting data before and after a dam's removal.

Researchers and graduate students plunged poles loaded with sensors into the river near the university's Ohio Stadium last week and team members measure depth, temperature and flow speed. They also use traps to collect insects, and birdhouses that allow researchers to see whether swallows are finding their food on land or on the river.

"I am really curious to see the sorts of things they're going to find," said Alice Waldhauer, watershed coordinator for the advocacy group Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed.

The study is funded by grants of more than $600,000 from the Ohio Water Development Authority, the National Institutes for Water Resources and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com