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Abstract

The concept of “passive” river restoration after dam removal is to allow the river to restore itself, within constraints such as localized bank erosion defense where infrastructure or property boundaries are at risk. This restoration strategy encounters difficulties in an urban environment where virtually the entire stream corridor is spatially constrained, and stream-bank protection is widely required. This raises the question of the meaning of river restoration in urbanized settings. In such cases, the sedimentary record can document paleohydrologic or paleogeomorphic evolution of the river system to better understand long-term response to the removal of the dam. Secor Dam was a low-head weir on the Ottawa River flowing through the City of Toledo, Ohio, and its outlying suburbs. The dam was constructed in 1928 and removed in 2007 to enhance aquatic ecosystems, improve water quality, and avoid liability concerns. Predam removal feasibility studies predicted the hydrological and sedimentological responses for the dam removal and determined that reservoir sediments were not significantly contaminated. Postdam removal studies included trenching, sediment coring, geochronology, and surveying. The buried, pre-1928 channel was located and showed that watershed urbanization resulted in channel armoring. Incision in the former reservoir exhumed a woody peat layer that was subsequently shown to be a presettlement hydromorphic paleosol currently buried beneath 1.7 m of legacy sediments, mostly deposited since ca. 1959. Today, the river flows through an incised channel between fill terraces composed of legacy sediments. Additional coring and survey work documented that the channel lateral migration rates averaged 0.32 m/yr over the past ∼80 yr, and that the meander wavelength is increasing in response to dam removal. Using sediment budget concepts, significant channel bank erosion and lateral channel migration should be expected until this river system reworks and removes accumulated legacy sediments currently in floodplain storage. In this dam removal project, “active” restoration practices, such as riparian wetland restoration, would have been more in accord with scientific understandings. That did not happen in this case because of disagreements among different constituencies and because of limitations of funding mechanisms.

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