Iowa Falls men drown at Alden dam
By Courier Staff
ALDEN --- Two Hardin County men died Sunday evening after swirling waters beneath a low-head dam apparently pulled their canoe into a troubled area of the Iowa River. Authorities identified the victims as Jonathan Hill, 26, and Drew Goodknight, 22, both of Iowa Falls. A third passenger in the boat, Levi Wendland, 26, also of Iowa Falls, escaped serious injury but was reportedly taken to Ellsworth Municipal Hospital in Iowa Falls.
The incident happened shortly before 6 p.m. when the three were paddling on the Iowa River. After reaching the dam at Alden, they carried their canoe around and below the dam, but the vessel was apparently sucked into the churning water. None of the three passengers were wearing life jackets at the time of the incident, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The dam has few safety features and a rolling current, which poses several problems for people trying to navigate the river.
"It's not a dam you would want to go over by any means," said Tracy Morlan, owner of Rock-N-Row Adventures in Steamboat Rock. Construction on a portage road around the dam was expected to begin this summer as part of a trail along the Iowa River, Morlan added. Higher water caused by recent rains also makes the crossing more dangerous. The Iowa River hasn't come out of its banks yet, Morlan said. But he is warning people who rent equipment from Rock-N-Row to take extreme care on the river. He said no one can be too cautious.
"You really have to know what you're doing," Morlan said. "It looks harmless enough, but Mother Nature, once she gets a hold of you, she doesn't let go."
In Cedar Falls, a man went over the dam Sunday afternoon when his personal watercraft quit. He was riding in the impoundment above the dam and stayed on his watercraft as it floated downstream. After trying to hang on to chains above the dam, the man and the watercraft rushed through the middle gate of the dam, according to the Cedar Falls Fire Department. The man was able to restart the watercraft and then rode it downstream to a take-out point. Several people have drowned over the years at low-head dams across the state.
Nate Hoogeveen, president of the Iowa Whitewater Coalition based in Des Moines, has described the structures --- essentially walls blocking the flow of water --- as dangerous and unnecessary. Iowa has at least 150 low-head dams. Many were built to power mills in the 19th century but serve no purpose today, according to Hoogeveen. Cedar Falls has one low-head dam, Waterloo has two, but kayakers have initiated efforts to reconstruct the obstacles. In Wisconsin, officials and volunteers have removed more than 75 dams since the 1980s. Minnesota in recent years spent $4 million renovating a low-head dam and turning the Red River into a series of gradual rapids.
The DNR has money available to make low-head dams safer, or at least more visible. The agency will reimburse up to $15,000 per project and pay 100 percent of costs, according to the DNR's Web site. Eligible items the state will pay for include signs, posts, cables, towers, buoys and construction costs for portage trails. The DNR might also pay for "other site-specific features needed to develop clear lines of sight and adequate warning." The Alden Fire Department and the Hardin County Sheriff's Department assisted at the Alden scene. The incident remains under investigation by the DNR.