By Hattie Johnson | American Whitewater

AMERICAN Whitewater’s database of whitewater accidents and fatalities, maintained since 1972, documents that 10 percent of river fatalities nationwide are a result of individuals getting caught in a low head dam hydraulic. 

These dams are generally defined as man-made structures, up to 25 feet in height, built across a river or stream channel from bank to bank. Powerful hydraulics and hard-to-see horizon lines create a dangerous hazard. Most paddlers have had a run-in with a low head dam in some capacity, whether it is a nasty surf, a tough portage, or worse. 

American Whitewater has been working at the local, state and federal levels to address this public safety issue. Understanding the location, utility, public safety hazard, and ownership of these structures can not only better inform recreationists, but also help to better identify structures for removal or retrofit.

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