COLUMBUS (WCMH)– The thunderous roar of water pouring through the Mohawk Dam in Warsaw, a small town in western Coshocton County, plays an essential role in protecting county residents from flooding.
On Thursday, about 56,000 gallons of water per second roared through the dam outlet channel into the Walhonding River in a controlled pattern.
“The waters that are being held back by this dam are greatly reducing flooding that affects downstream,” said Rob McMasters, director of Coshocton County Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security.
“If we look at what was happening in 1913 and 1937, before these efforts had taken place, the damage was catastrophic, the loss of life was catastrophic.”
The water level behind the Mohawk Dam resembles a lake, covering 800 acres of farm field, where the normally placid Walhonding River flows, formed by the Kokosing and Mohican Rivers upstream.
“The purpose of this is to keep property from flooding,” said Bob Hawk, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We’re currently under a 24-hour surveillance.”
The pool reached a height of 865 feet above mean sea level late this week, a remarkable 65 feet above the normal summer level of 799 feet. This is the highest level attained since the heavy rainfall and snowmelt in January 2005.
Near-record rains in February of this year caused streams and rivers to swell throughout the state, with widespread flooding last weekend, including along the Ohio River, which reached more than 8 feet above flood stage at Cincinnati.
One of the perennial difficulties in managing impounded water in the behind the dam is road closures that force some rural residents to take alternate routes as much as 10 to 15 miles out of their way to reach Coshocton.
“We truly do understand the aggravation that people can feel when they are inconvenienced by this,” said McMasters.
A gradual, timed release of the water by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who operate the dam built in 1935, occurs about 15 times a year, in close cooperation with the county emergency management agencies and first responders.
The outflow was temporarily halted for a day last week to slow the flow of water that flows into the Muskingum River and eventually the Ohio River, reaching Cincinnati in about 72 hours, when moderately flooding was occurring in southern Ohio.
The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh has extended the flood warning for the Muskingum River in Coshocton through Sunday, for minor flooding, following a soaking rain on Thursday.