NEW PHILADELPHIA — A large amount of rain and melting snow in recent weeks has set a new record for the amount of floodwaters stored in the reservoir behind Leesville Dam, while also swelling several other reservoirs in the Muskingum River Watershed.
Most of the floodwaters have or will be cresting soon behind the dams, and the reservoirs, rivers and streams flowing to the dams gradually will return to normal conditions over the next few weeks, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal USACE manages the dams in the 8,000-square-mile Muskingum River Watershed for flood reduction management in partnership with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which manages many of the reservoirs behind the dams.
Leesville Reservoir, located in Carroll County, has broken a record by slightly more than 1 foot of additional water storage set more than 60 years ago for floodwaters retained behind the nearly 75-year-old dam. The new record of more than 970 feet — water storage is measured in feet above sea level — eclipsed the old record of 969.60 feet established in April 1948. The water behind Leesville Dam will crest soon, the USACE said.
The USACE also said that the system of dams and reservoirs is working exactly as designed and safely. Similar to recent heavy rainfall events in 2005 and 2008, the USACE is monitoring the dams closely and is in frequent communication with local safety forces and officials to inform them about the potential impacts of water rising in the reservoirs behind the dams.
Current water storage levels at all of the reservoirs in the Muskingum River Watershed, along with information from stream gauges at various locations, can be found at www.mwcd.org.
The reservoirs, some of which are permanent lakes, hold excessive floodwaters on a temporary basis until they can be released safely downstream. The federal government holds legal easements to temporarily and safely store the floodwaters on properties until they are released through the dams.
Many of the closed roads and other issues related to the flooding are in the reservoir regions behind the dams and will be alleviated as soon as water levels return to normal conditions. Evacuation notices were issued in a few locations in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties behind Atwood and Dover dams and one school district located behind Dover Dam has had to cancel classes for the week until the floodwaters recede off of numerous roads.
The amount of water released at individual dams is handled through the coordination of all 16 dams in the system.
Boat launch ramps at several MWCD reservoirs and marinas are unable to be accessed until the water levels recede to normal conditions, according to MWCD officials. Marinas at some lakes also are affected by the high water conditions and the MWCD urges customers to contact marinas for additional details.
The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, the largest wholly contained watershed in Ohio. Since their construction, the reservoirs and dams in the MWCD region have been credited for saving more than $8 billion worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to the federal government.
The 14 MWCD reservoirs are Atwood in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties; Beach City in Tuscarawas County; Bolivar in Stark and Tuscarawas counties; Charles Mill in Ashland and Richland counties; Clendening in Harrison County; Dover in Tuscarawas County; Leesville in Carroll County; Mohawk in Coshocton and Knox counties; Mohicanville in Ashland and Wayne counties; Piedmont in Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties; Pleasant Hill in Ashland and Richland counties; Seneca in Guernsey and Noble counties; Tappan in Harrison County; and Wills Creek in Coshocton and Muskingum counties. The dams and reservoirs at Dillon Dam in Muskingum County and North Branch Kokosing Dam in Knox County are part of the Muskingum River Watershed system, but were built and are managed solely by the USACE.
In the fall of 2010, the USACE and the MWCD hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at Dover Dam to kick off a rehabilitation project at the dam that will begin this spring. The USACE has identified that four dams in the system – Dover, along with Beach City, Bolivar and Mohawk — as well as Zoar Levee in northern Tuscarawas County, are in need of major rehabilitation with an estimated total cost of more than $600 million. The MWCD is serving as the required local cost-share sponsor for the work with its share expected to be more than $100 million.
When completed, the work will ensure the continued safe and effective operation of the dams for decades to come.