Round the flatlands of the American Midwest, concrete low-head dams functioned for decades as significant components in flood control, as gauging stations, also for irrigation. They are also exceptionally dangerous–known as “drowning machines” by a few water control agencies.
The hydrodynamics brought on by the rapid flow of the dam’s ledge lead to water moving at a reverse circular movement between the dam wall and the water boil stage, typically a few yards downstream. Anything–or anybody –captured in today gets pushed submerged, turned, and pushed down again. Lifejackets lose their buoyancy and therefore are rendered almost useless by air bubbles that fill water.
Difficult to see in the upstream, low-head dams have drowned tens of thousands of people throughout the nation over the last ten years. Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are collectively responsible for one-third of low-head dam drownings in the USA, based on some 2015 research by investigators at Brigham Young University. One dam in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has promised at least 29 resides. In Iowa, nearly 200 people have drowned in the palms of low-head dams–a third of these in the previous two decades.
But in Springfield, Ohio–and at different cities across the Midwest–attempts are underway to rid of rivers of those structures that are dangerous. Doing this brings extra benefits by opening rivers up to diversion.
Constructing a whitewater run in Ohio
After rafter and entrepreneur John Loftis returned to his native Ohio following five years pursuing whitewater around northwestern Colorado, he wondered if the excitement he’d undergone outside West could somehow be duplicated within his backyard. He had plans to come up with a six-mile stretch of Buck Creek, a little river that runs through Springfield downstream of a significant dam and reservoir operates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
However, a plethora of challenges –bureaucratic–originally stood in his path. Chief among them were low-head dams running from bank to bank, installed decades ago to control flood. Following the tragic drowning of a kid at one of the dams in 2008, the neighborhood called for a shift. Together with the Corps of Engineers on board, Loftis and his staff set to work converting and taking away the dams starting in 2009.
Loftis, with a background in building, spent months knee-deep in the river. His group utilized excavating machines to alter and remove several dams completely before positioning a mixture of boulders and concrete to make desirable wave effects. “We had been there daily at the water, wedging stones with prybars,” he states.
His 15-hour workdays paid off: Now, Buck Creek is the centerpiece of this ECO Sports Corridor, which provides eight whitewater characteristics that culminate in the Snyder Whitewater Play Park, in which a collection of four drops brings paddlers from half a dozen countries around the area. Scheduled water discharges in the Buck Creek State Park reservoir upstream lead to a trusted supply of quality rapids to get recreationists on weekends each autumn. These joint efforts have helped place back life in a city hollowed out from the loss of tens of thousands of production jobs.
Eliminating low-head dams
From Colorado to Indiana into Maine, civil governments, environmentalists, and engineers are embarking on projects to map and eliminate low-head dams. Of the 26 countries that eliminated dams in 2019, a third was Midwestern.
“In the last few decades, we have begun to see an uptick [in removals] from the Midwest and Great Lakes areas,” says Jessie Thomas-Blate, manager of the river recovery in American Rivers, a nonprofit working to return rivers to their natural conditions.
For water enthusiasts and related companies, the advantages of free-flowing waterways are evident. In areas like Dayton, Ohio; subway Chicago; and Grand Rapids, Michigan–areas with a joint population in the countless community leaders and municipalities are spending countless dollars converting low-head dams to whitewater recreation features included in wider plans to improve their regional economies. For acute wave fanatics, the whitewater contests of this Summer Iowa Games are scheduled to be held in the Charles City Whitewater Park in June.
Removing the dams has also led to environmental benefits–for example reintroduction applications for a plethora of fish and amphibians, for example, hellbender salamander, the nation’s biggest. Eliminating dam risks and reestablishing natural river stream generates better fishing opportunities for anglers, too.
Finding and mapping the “drowning machines”
But challenges abound. An unidentified amount of low-head dams–maybe thousands–block waterways across the U.S. Many were abandoned decades ago by private owners that no longer function, meaning estimating their whole number, or how many remain unaccounted for, is guesswork. This, and the increasing frequency of folks taking to rivers to recreate, have raised the need to discover and map their locations.
The writers of this Brigham Young University research, however, have taken on the challenge by establishing a job to locate and create a database of all dams, utilizing AI applications and Google Earth Pro. Manuela Johnson, the pioneer of this Indiana Silver Jackets, a voluntary, inter-agency team focusing on alternatives to waterway dangers, has helped create the applications that, up to now, have given”roughly 90 percent accuracy.” For lake users who would like to donate to the database, this program makes it possible for people to geotag and picture low-head dams.
However, not everybody is pleased. Some sailors, attracted to the dams by fish congregating in pools in their foundation, and sailors, who enjoy seeing the beautiful (yet deadly) waterfalls, remain about their elimination.
Since social-distancing mandates ease and recreationists prepare to carry to rivers, the danger of life-endangering injury could spike through the summertime. Johnson advises that paddlers and lake users test water levels on the U.S. Geological Survey site before heading out.