Lower dam done; Horseshoe unlucky

A lone snapping turtle slogs across the mud flats of Lower Shaker Lake in early July, headed for one of the remaining pools of water. The lake was drained to restore its earthen dam. Nearby Horseshoe Lake will remain empty for at least the next year.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) said work at Lower Shaker Lake dam is complete for now, but Horseshoe Lake will remain drained at least through next summer, while engineers try to solve structural problems with its dam. Both dams are categorized as Class I by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) because their failure would result in “probable loss of life.”

Contractors began draining Lower Shaker Lake in June, leaving 4-foot-deep pools of water for fish and turtles. When the lake started to refill in early July, people reported seeing dead fish.

Jeff Jowett, senior watershed team leader for NEORSD, said a fish survey taken before the project showed an overwhelming majority of the fish were carp and goldfish, considered invasive species, but any fish deaths were unintentional. He said oxygen, water temperature, or numerous other factors could have caused the problem.

All issues concerning fish fall under the jurisdiction of the ODNR, Jowett said, and moving an invasive species out of the lake would have been prohibited.

Witnesses around the lake also expressed concern when a dead snapping turtle was found on South Park Boulevard, and they saw other turtles apparently struggling to move across the mud of the drained lake.

Jowett said for a recent project at Green Lake, NEORSD hired the nonprofit Herps Alive to temporarily move turtles while work was being done. Herps Alive determined there was sufficient habitat for the turtles at Lower Shaker Lake. Jowett said it’s normal for turtles to cross roads in the late spring and early summer in search of mates or nesting areas. (See a Shaker Lakes Nature Center article on the topic here: https://shakerlakes.org/turtlecrossing/.)

Aside from fish and turtles, the lake draining also uncovered a Chevy, stolen in Cleveland in 2008.

Janet Popielski, NEORSD stormwater design manager, said the focus remains on the project’s main purpose. “The responsibility we have is to make sure those dams are safe,” she said. 

Lower Shaker Lake was built in 1826; Horseshoe in 1854. The ODNR determined the work needed to be done, and marked the trees in the Lower Shaker dam to be uprooted, because they were damaging its integrity. (Note: The earthen dam is what appears to be the east bank of the lake along the Brook Road parking lot. The concrete structure by the pedestrian bridge is the spillway.) Contractors also protected the bank of the dam from water erosion with large rocks.

Horseshoe Dam has proven more challenging. After the ODNR ordered water levels lowered last year, problems continued to show up, including new sink holes and cracks in the dam’s concrete. Now the lake has been drained. Popielski said [NEORSD] must come up with a design that passes the “probable maximum flood test” 100 percent of the time. The current plan only passes at a 6 percent rate.

Fred D'Ambrosi

Fred D'Ambrosi has been an award-winning journalist for 40 years, mostly as a TV news director in Cleveland, D.C., San Diego and Milwaukee. He's enjoyed living in Cleveland Heights since 2015.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 11:39 AM, 08.01.2019