This year marks 100 years of flood protection by MCD

By Don O’Connor, Chief Engineer

While there is a persistent fear of flooding in cities around the world, people and businesses along the Great Miami River go confidently about their lives hardly giving flooding a thought. Since 1922, homes and businesses have been protected by MCD’s system of five dry dams, retarding basins, 55 miles of levees, and preserved floodplain which provide a nearly unparalleled level of protection.

Built between 1918 and 1922 by more than 2000 MCD staff members, the original system includes the five retarding basins created by the earthen dams: Germantown, Englewood, Lockington, Taylorsville and Huffman. Downstream of the dams, levees were built in Piqua, Troy, Tipp City, Dayton, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton – and forty years later additional levees in Huber Heights and Moraine. Channel improvements were made in the cities as part of the flood protection system.

The system reduces flood risk for:

  • More than 47,000 properties in five counties
  • $7.3 billion in property value
  • 6 hospitals
  • Nearly 60 schools and colleges
  • 814 miles of public roads
  • 14 wastewater treatment plants
  • 9 water treatment plants
  • 1 million people who use or rely on these facilities

By the end of 2021, the retarding basins collectively had stored floodwaters 2,085 times since the original system was completed.

How did we get here?

MCD was born as a direct result of the Great 1913 Flood.

Flooding was somewhat common in the Dayton region even before the Great Flood. There are records as early as 1805 indicating Dayton was inundated by the Great Miami River. The river overflowed its banks somewhat regularly, with flooding documented in 1814, 1828, 1832, 1847, 1866, 1883, 1897 and 1898. But the Great 1913 Flood was like no other, killing 360 people and causing more than $100 million in damages.

People who survived the devastation were determined to contain the Great Miami River once and for all. Soon after the flood, residents raised enough money to hire a young engineer named Arthur Morgan to develop a solution. MCD was officially formed in 1915. Morgan and his team paid careful attention to planning, financing, legislation and implementation that resulted in the most comprehensive flood protection system in the nation.

The flood protection system was the largest public works project in the world at the time and cost more than $30 million (about $430 million today). 

You can take a look at photos of the construction of the MCD flood protection system: View MCD historical photos.

Today, MCD is responsible for an integrated flood protection system that significantly reduces Great Miami River flood risk in riverfront cities from Piqua to Hamilton. MCD has reinvested in the dams and levees over the years to ensure the system’s integrity for future generations. MCD’s flood protection has attracted attention and awards from around the U.S. and the world.

Where do funds for MCD’s work come from?

MCD funding comes from local property owners and jurisdictions that benefit from MCD’s services. MCD also can receive funding through grants, agreements and other sources. The Ohio Revised Code outlines how conservancy districts are funded.

MCD collects two flood protection assessments: one for capital improvements and one for maintenance. Those property owners (business and residential) who benefit from the flood protection system pay the assessments. More than 25 cities and counties also benefit and pay assessments.

Investment keeps dams and levees operating as designed

In recent years, MCD has invested more than $23 million in dam safety upgrades and rehabilitation. MCD was also awarded grants in 2019 and 2021 to conduct repairs at some of the dams and levees. Still tens of millions of dollars are likely needed to make necessary repairs to the concrete walls at the five dams, and to floodwalls and revetment in protected cities along the Great Miami River.  

Don O’Connor became MCD’s Chief Engineer in July of 2021. He is responsible for managing the planning, design, and construction of MCD infrastructure projects, working on community partner projects, and securing grant funding. Prior to joining MCD, Don served as the City Engineer for the City of Fairborn, and as an administrator and professional engineer for the City of Toledo.  He holds a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Toledo, and is a registered professional engineer in the state of Ohio.

Don O’Connor, Chief Engineer, working with contractors and community partners to improve MCD infrastructure.

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