May 5, 1999 | By: Aimee D. Heald

With more than 13,000 miles of streams, Kentucky is a paradise for fishermen, boaters and other water recreationists. However, many people don't realize the danger of low-head dams across their favorite waterways until it is too late.

"Unfortunately, high usage of streams for fishing and boating is in the spring," Recreation and Tourism Specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Allan Worms, said. "This coincides with high water, which flows over low-head dams."

Low-head dams are fixed weir dams that extend all the way across a stream. These dams look very placid and serene from upstream. Often, fishermen, swimmers, boaters, etc. don't realize the danger and they drift too close to the dam, getting caught in the current. They may try to 'ride it out' and suddenly find themselves caught in a 'hole' below the dam. These holes are created when water falls over the lip of the concrete dam into a pool of water below to create a powerful, revolving hydraulic.

Too many times, people are seriously injured or even killed when a boat capsizes or a swimmer is pulled under in the current. Even a low dam, with a drop of a few feet, can generate heavy downward thrusts and strong hydraulic effects.

"Since these dams extend all the way across the stream or river, there is no place where the hydraulic is interrupted." Worms said. "This means there is no place for a swimmer or boater to get out of the current."Uses for the old dams have changed. When they were built, they mostly were used for

water supply. Today, many are used for transportation over creeks as bridges. Without completely taking the dams out, some could be breeched to help the problem. However, that could be a timely and costly process. The best solution is education. Water recreationists must learn all the dangers of the streams and low-head dams. Anyone who uses the creeks should determine beforehand where the dams are and avoid them.

Kentucky is a beautiful and well-watered state, with many opportunities for water recreation. The state greatly benefits from the many small dams, navigation, water supply, and the many great fishing pools they provide. Getting educated is the best weapon to fight the dangers of low-head dams that share the waterways.



Writer: Aimee D. Heald (606) 257-9764

Source: Allan Worms (606) 257-4646