The state of Ohio passed the Vonderheide Act, also known as the Ohio Conservancy Law, after the Flood of 1913. This flood is known as the greatest natural disaster in Ohio history. Although rivers in Ohio tended to flood every spring, heavy rains in March 1913 exacerbated the flood conditions. Most communities located along rivers in the state experienced flooding, even those that had not had problems in the past. The most severe flooding occurred along the Great Miami River, and the conditions in Dayton were particularly bad.
When the flood was over, Ohioans began to assess the damage. At least 428 people died during the Flood of 1913, and more than twenty thousand homes were totally destroyed. Property damage was extensive, as many other homes were seriously damaged. Factories, railroads, and other structures also faced major losses.
After the flood waters receded, Dayton residents were determined to prevent a future disaster of this magnitude. They hired hydrological engineer Arthur Morgan to come up with an extensive plan to protect Dayton from floods. Morgan recommended the construction of a series of earthen dams on the Great Miami River, as well as modifications to the river channel in Dayton. Governor James M. Cox supported the plan, helping to gain passage of the Vonderheide Act in 1914. The law gave the state the authority to establish watershed districts and to raise funds for improvements through taxes. Although the Vonderheide Act was challenged in both the state and United States supreme courts in Orr v. Allen (1915 and 1919), the law was upheld. In 1915, the Miami Conservancy District was created in response to the Vonderheide Act. It became the first major watershed district in the nation.
- Cayton, Andrew. Ohio: The History of a People. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2002.
- Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1960.
- Hofstadter, Richard. The Progressive Movement, 1900-1915. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
- McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920. New York, NY: Free Press, 2003.