History of the Former Division of Water
The beginning of the 20th century brought many changes in the use of Ohio's water resources, but their importance did not diminish. Shortly before WWI, industry began to emerge in Ohio and the demand for water to use in the manufacture of products such as steel, glass, and automobile parts increased. In 1915, C.E. Sherman, Professor of Engineering at The Ohio State University, published a 155 page report about the need for Ohio to study its water resources in order to prepare for the future. Ohio's citizens were already aware of the devastating effects of flood waters. A flood in 1913 which caused great damage and loss of life, especially in southwest Ohio, prompted the first laws for river basin flood control.
In response to Mr. Sherman's report, a State Water Conservation Board was created during the 1930s to survey Ohio's water resources. Collection of ground water and streamflow data was especially emphasized. The Water Conservation Board did not last long, but it played a large role in beginning the process of collecting essential information about Ohio's water resources.
During WWI and WWII, industry grew rapidly and began to express concern about water shortages. The Ohio Water Resources Board (originally named the Ohio Water Supply Board) was created in 1945 to address these concerns. By 1947, the Board was involved with about 25 different water programs, not only concerned with water shortages, but with other water-related challenges as well. Mr. Vern Youngquist, who would serve Ohio in the area of water resources for over 40 years, was Chief Engineer for the Board. The Ohio Water Resources Board (OWRB) worked with the Corps of Engineers to plan water supply storage in federal reservoirs, and flood control studies were carried out. The board continued to study water resources throughout the state and published a series of Water Bulletins based on this information. In order to expand knowledge of ground water resources in Ohio, the OWRB required that drillers file well logs describing the yield of the well and the nature of the materials encountered during drilling. A pumpage investigator was also hired to determine the potential yield of water wells.
Pumping Test to Determine Potential Well Yield, Highland County, 1949. Division of Water file photo.
Regulations for well construction, maintenance and abandonment were adopted. A nucleus of professional expertise in water was beginning to emerge and water resource professionals were also beginning to recognize the interwoven relationship between water and other natural resources.
Seeing the need for a program/agency with an overall resource-based philosophy that would plan the wise use and development of Ohio's natural resources, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 13 in 1949 to create the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. At this time the Division of Water was also created as an important part of the Department. Almost all of the original functions of the OWRB were transferred to the newly created Division of Water, and Mr. Youngquist was appointed as the Division's first Chief. In addition to the expertise available from the OWRB, David C. Warner, who had previously served on the State Water Conservation Board, became a consultant to the Division of Water. Mr. Warner undertook extensive exploration of Ohio's water resources throughout his lifetime and was known as the "Father of Water Conservation in Ohio".
In its early stages the Division of Water was primarily focused on research and information. The Division was given the responsibility to formally inventory water resources in all watersheds throughout the state, a task which was to take 10 years. Data were gathered from automatic stream gauges in operation on roughly 200 streams, and sedimentation of reservoirs was measured. Chemical and silt-load analyses were made on many streams in order to assess suitability of the water for human consumption, agriculture and industrial use. The Division operated automatic gages in wells and logged ground water level fluctuations. Flood and drought frequencies, along with their associated flows, were determined by analyzing stream-flow records. Results of these investigations were made available through Water Bulletins, and beginning in 1959, the Division published a series of Water Resources Inventory Reports by basin. Regional Water Plans for all five planning regions of the state were also developed. Throughout the coming years, the Division of Water retained its role of collecting and analyzing information about Ohio's water resources, but program activities specifically involving water quality (chemical analysis, etc.) were transferred to the Ohio EPA in 1972, shortly after it was created. However, several additional programs were also created within or transferred to the Division of Water.
Severe floods in 1959 prompted a cooperative effort between the Division of Water and the USGS to study the causes of floods. The great damage within the floodplains led the Division of Water to consult with communities to obtain flood profiles on roughly 300 miles of streams.
Fremont Flooded by Waters of the Sandusky River, January 1959. Division of Water file photo.
O'Shaughnessy Reservoir during drought of 1952, photo by Ray White.
These events were the beginning of what is known today as the Floodplain Program within the Division of Water. The Division assists communities in gaining eligibility for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, recommends management strategies to reduce flood damage and is currently the state repository for flood data.
Loss of life, health and property due to the failure of dams during floods also concerned Ohio's citizens and water professionals. Permits for construction of new dams were first required in 1963. After the failure of several dams in Northeast Ohio during the severe flood of 1969, the General Assembly passed laws authorizing the Division of Water to periodically inspect dams within the state. In 1972, the failure of the Buffalo Creek Dam in West Virginia caused loss of life and severe property damage and led to the enactment of the National Dam Safety Act. This law, administered by the Corps of Engineers, called for an inventory of dams in the United States and inspection of those that could create the most hazard if they failed. The Corps contracted with the Division of Water to inventory roughly 4500 non-federal dams in Ohio.
In the late 1980's several additional programs and functions were added to the Division. For example, the Division began producing ground water pollution potential maps on a county by county basis. These maps show the relative vulnerability to pollution of the ground water in each county. In addition, the coastal management program was put into law, and the Division assisted with this program. In 1989, responsibility for the up keep and hydraulic operations of Ohio's historic canals was given to the Division of Water.
Prior to 1900 Ohio's economy was driven by agriculture. Streams and rivers were used to "power" mill dams and as transportation for agricultural products and trade. Canals were also constructed with the intent of furthering transportation and agricultural commerce. Following the Civil War, and throughout the latter half of the 19th century, the railroads spread rapidly across the state and the significance of the canals and waterways as commercial transportation lessened.