Water helped shape Delaware County


Surface water resources have heavily influenced people and the settlement of Delaware County for centuries. Prehistoric peoples that settled in this vicinity found an abundance of game attracted to the water features of the area and tended crops with an ample supply of water. The Scioto and Olentangy rivers formed early transportation routes for the movement of goods, before railroads were even conceived.

The two-page, Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which created the Northwest Territory (of which the state of Ohio was later carved) paid special attention to water resources. As quoted in Article IV: “The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, shall be common highways and forever free, as well as to the inhabitants of said territory as to the citizens of the United States, and those of other states that maybe admitted into the confederacy, without any tax, impost, or duty therefor.”

While people have employed and depended upon surface water resources, sometimes the relationship between rivers and nearby inhabitants becomes strained. The Flood of 1913 wreaked havoc on many areas of Ohio, including the cities of Columbus and Delaware. The Delaware County Historical Society recounted the grim details of the Flood of 1913 and its impacts in its “Delaware County Historian” publication (Volume 57, Issue 4). The Olentangy River reached a height of 32 feet above flood stage and flooded blocks of the city of Delaware.

The publication included a reprint of an excerpt from the April 1, 1913 Delaware Semi-Weekly Gazette, which included the passage, “Scarcely a bridge in the county is left standing.” Imagine your present-day work commute if nearly all the bridges in Delaware County were wiped out in a single flood event.

Just as the government authors of the Northwest Ordinance paid homage to rivers, government would again serve entrée into the management of rivers vis-à-vis the Flood Control Act of 1938. In response to the loss of life and property caused by the Flood of 1913, flood control dams were erected for the primary purpose of flood reduction (and secondary purposes of recreation, wildlife management and water supply).

Hence, Delaware Dam and Lake was constructed between 1947 and 1951 to protect downstream communities, such as the cities of Delaware and Columbus. It was fortunate that Delaware Dam was completed in the early 1950s, as another equally strong flood event occurred in January 1959. But total deaths and damage were less than the Flood of 1913 because of the constructed system of flood-control reservoirs. This system, which includes dams and levees throughout the Ohio River basin, is like a wide-angle photo (given its size).

At the “selfie” sized (or small) level, the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District promotes best management practices to reduce runoff from properties and impervious surfaces, thereby maintaining the quality of our surface water resources. These surface water resources that have served various cultures for millennia, remain vital to our existence and quality of life today.

Call us at 740-368-1921 if you wish to learn more about protecting our water resources or visit the website, bethechangeforcleanwater.org. And enjoy World Water Day on March 22, the annual United Nations observance day that promotes the importance of freshwater.


By Kim Marshall

Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District

Kim Marshall is the communication specialist for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.

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