Built in the early 1900s, low-lying or submerged dams are concrete walls
used across America to harness the power of rivers. These dams helped
to keep lakes full to prevent drought, run grain mills, and for electricity
generation. Though they are no longer used for these purposes, the dams
have not been dismantled. Because the construction of this type of dam
creates a wide, smooth waterway, urban planners have been turning these
areas into recreational areas.
Low-lying dams may appear to create calm bodies of water, but these dams have hurled
hundreds of swimmers and boaters into their current and drowned them.
Once a person goes over one of these dams, they are stuck – it is
impossible to climb out. Lately, the death toll has risen, and creating
a debate about whether these dams should be undone.
According to Brigham Young University, at least 441 people have died at
235 low-lying dams in 38 states across the country. However, more than
one third of the deaths have occurred in 3 states – Iowa, Minnesota,
and Pennsylvania. Other states with a high frequency of deaths from low-lying
dams include California, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia.
Out of those 441 deaths, approximately half have occurred since the year
2000. This is due to an increase in cities repurposing rivers into scenic
attractions that draw tourists and businesses to the areas. Many of these
rivers, typically used for industrial purposes in the past, are now used
for recreational water activities.
When a swimmer or boater approaches one of these dams, all they will see
is a gentle drop. They have no reason from the looks of things to suspect
they are entering dangerous territory. However, once they drop into the
water below, a swimmer gets caught in a current that continuously forces
them back to the bottom of the river. If they are able to make it to the
surface, they are still unable to escape the pull of the current, likely
resulting in drowning.
Experts believe that the number of deaths is greater than the known or
confirmed cases. These deaths are not tracked by any government organization.
It is estimated that there are 3,000 to 5,000 low-lying dams across the
country. On the Des Moines River in Iowa alone, at least 15 people have
drowned from getting caught in the current of a low-lying dam. Bruce Tschantz,
an expert on low-lying dams, believes the increase in deaths is due to
a combination of people spending more time on the rivers for recreational
purposes, and not understanding the power of the current. These dams are
not marked well, nor are there escapes for swimmers or boaters such as
buoys to hold on to.
At the center of the debate on whether to remove the dams are the cost
(at least $1 million for removal) and the concern of local residents who
are worried about the destruction of the scenic attraction areas, leaving
behind a muddy creek. For example, in Geneva, Illinois, 6 people have
drowned in the past 10 years at a low-lying dam on the Fox River. However,
residents have resisted the dam’s removal, as it will destroy the
picturesque backdrop for the city’s downtown area. The state of
Iowa has begun financing the removal of these dams, however the expense
and hurting recreational tourism is still an issue.
Contact Goldstein & Hayes, P.C.
The Atlanta attorneys at Goldstein & Hayes, P.C. are active members
of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and are dedicated to helping
prevent the tragedy of drowning by promoting water safety. Many drowning
cases should and could have been prevented. Our law firm works to protect
the best interests of our clients and provides exceptional, experienced
legal representation at every stage of your case. Contact us today for
a free consultation.