Public Safety & Awareness

Public Safety Around Dams

How NOT to Behave Around a Dam

  1. Child fishing on bank next to log
  2. Large caliber semi-automatic pistol on top of tackle box
  3. Man fishing over an in-channel dam's hydraulic recirculation zone

This photo, taken by an Indiana dam inspector, demonstrates the need for warning signage around in-channel dams (not to mention extremely poor judgment by the adult fisherman).

Be Aware of Boating or Swimming Near Low Head Dams!

Under this raging waterfall is a "low head" or "run-of-the river" dam.

When water flows over these structures a deadly "roller effect" can form pulling everything under with very little chance for escape.

Imagine if this truck were a kayaker, boater or swimmer.

View news footage of this incident.

Additional incidents

(Video by Chris Harrod, Anderson County Fire Department, Lawrenceburg, KY)

"Hidden Dangers and Public Safety at Low-head Dams"

Paper by Bruce A. Tschantz, PE, PhD, and Kenneth R. Wright, PE, published in the Journal of Dam Safety, V.9 n.1, 2011.

Low-head dams, a.k.a. "killer dams" or "drowning machines," can trap victims in a submerged hydraulic jump formed just downstream from the dam. Hundreds of people have been killed at low-head dams, but few states regulate these dangerous structures because of their small heights of up to about 12 feet. A recent study reflects a sobering reality of the problem from a national hazard perspective. This paper explains the hydraulic action below low-head dams, examines structural and non-structural measures to reduce drownings, and presents a drowning case study that the authors have investigated. Full text.

The "Roller Effect"

Small dams are deceptively dangerous. They are often hard to see, especially from the upstream side. They don't look dangerous, so people often get too close and become trapped in the hydraulic roller.

More Examples of the Dangers of Low-Head Dams

Canoeist Speaks Out On Dangers Of Dams. KELO-TV, 7/14/11
Boater narrowly escaped drowning after going over a dam on South Dakota's Big Sioux River.

Second Franklin County drowning occurs at low head dam. The Roanoke Times, 7/24/09
Two drowning in two months occur at the same Virginia dam.

Dangerous Low Head Dams in Des Moines, Iowa. KCC News, 8/10/2007
Low-head dams are extremely dangerous although they do not appear so.

Additional incidents can be researched through the ASDSO Bibliography.


For additional resources, search the ASDSO Bibliography

Suggested keywords: accidents, low-head dams, public awareness, public safety

Association of State Dam Safety Officials, 450 Old Vine St., Lexington, KY 40507 | 859/550-2788 |

Copyright © 2017. Association of State Dam Safety Officials. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Statement | Disclaimer
Site designed and programmed by Hammond Communications Group, Inc.