Miami Conservancy District
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MCD: Early Achievements
1.  Regional Flood Protection and a Model for Others

Arthur Morgan and MCD project engineers took into account regional precipitation levels, stream flow data from five water bodies and drainage patterns from an entire watershed when designing the flood protection system. A first in the world, MCD’s regional model has been replicated all over the country (Tennessee Valley Authority and in the states of Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan and Florida) and in many parts of the world. U.S. engineers and international delegations have come to Dayton to study the techniques initiated in the Miami Valley in order to help resolve their own regional flooding problems.

2.  Innovation

Two important, unique engineering techniques were discovered and implemented by MCD project engineers. The system consists of five “dry” dams which were constructed with permanent openings in their walls, sized to allow the passage of no more water than the river channel downstream could safely carry away. In normal conditions, the river flows through the dam unimpeded; after heavy rains, excess water automatically backs up in the retarding basins behind the dams, released over time. The dams also are designed with no moving parts and require no human intervention to work.

3.  Invention

The “hydraulic jump,” an engineering technique that was not well understood in theory, and had never been used in practice, was also implemented for the first time in Miami Conservancy District's project. The jump is a stepped obstacle at the base of each dam’s opening which pitches emerging waters back on themselves to dissipate the kinetic energy of the weight of the water stored behind the dams. The engineering dilemma of controlling tremendous amounts of water under high pressure was perfected using a model constructed at Colonel Edward Deeds’ swimming pool in Kettering!

4.  Ingenuity

At the time of construction (World War I), there were limited resources, both capital and human, with which to build the five dams, 60 miles of levee and 37 miles of improved river channel that comprise the flood protection system. The project was a display of true ingenuity — all of the equipment used in construction was salvaged and refurbished. During war times, MCD also managed to amass the largest workforce in the country to build the system. At its time, the construction of the flood protection system was the largest public works project in the history of the nation.

5.  An Engineering Feat

Miami Conservancy District’s flood protection system was awarded the 1922 Engineering Record’s distinguished “Project of the Year,” placing it in a category with other international engineering design feats like the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), Eiffel Tower (1889), Empire State Building (1931), Golden Gate Bridge (1937), Gateway Arch (1965) and the Channel Tunnel (1994). MCD dams were also designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.

6.  Regional Government

The problem with the concept of a “regional flood protection system” was that no legal mechanism existed to allow it. In 1914, legislation had to be quickly and effectively drafted by Dayton Attorney John McMahon and pushed through the legislature by Governor James Cox to enable the creation of a public agency that could carry out the urgent multi-county flood protection works envisioned by Arthur Morgan. It is a brilliant piece of legislation that has stood the test of time, allowing for an apolitical governmental agency to implement and maintain life-saving flood protection measures without impedance.

7.  Council-Manager Form of Government

Community leaders used the flood as an opportunity to overthrow Dayton’s corrupt and inefficient municipal government. In its place, a “business-like” model was implemented in which an elected body hired a professional manager to run the affairs of the city. As a result, Dayton is the proud home of the council-manager form of government, prevalent today among cities across the county.

8.  Social Democracy

The MCD engineers were progressive-era reformers who employed social engineering practices during the construction of the project. Unlike the shantytowns of other construction projects, MCD work camps were models of social justice. Workers had the opportunity to live in self-governing communities with an elected body and professional administrator (council-manager form of government) which offered access to decent housing with electricity and running water, playgrounds, a community hall with recreation and activities, dining facilities, schools for the children and evening courses in English for immigrants.

9.  Corporate/Government Partnership

Dayton’s Flood Prevention Committee, a unique partnership between the Dayton business community (John H. Patterson and Colonel Edward Deeds of NCR), the government (Governor Cox) and professional engineers (Arthur Morgan and Co.) ensured the project’s success. Through their leadership, citizens of the Valley rallied at Dayton’s Courthouse Square (with a symbolic giant cash register to tally donations) to raise 2 million dollars necessary to fund the design of the system — 100 percent of project funds were locally raised.

10.  Parkland Preservation

A permanent and integral part of the design of the flood protection system involved the preservation of reserve land (retarding basins) behind each of the five dams — 35,000 acres available to be flooded during high water events and permanently protected from development through easements and building restrictions. MCD, in its role as land steward, developed the reserve areas as parks for public use, using WPA and CCC funds to build picnic shelters, walking trails and other amenities. Carillon Park and the Wright Memorial near Huffman Dam are two important regional attractions developed by MCD. Today MCD retains ownership of the reserve land, but leases the land to Five Rivers MetroParks and the Shelby County Park District for professional management and programming.