Ask House For Nationwide Low-Head Dam Inventory!
Low-Head Dams dot rivers and creeks of all sizes across the country, creating hazards to paddlers and other river users. American Whitewater and our partners have been working to include an authorization of a nationwide inventory of low head dams in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Help us in asking the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to include the inventory in their 2022 WRDA bill.
Last week, the Senate committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously advanced their 2022 WRDA, including a directive to the US Army Corps of Engineers to develop an inventory of low head dams. The draft states that information on the location, ownership, description, current use, condition, height, and length of each low-head dam should be tracked. This information would greatly enhance the nation’s ability to identify and address the structures that pose the highest risk and impact to people and ecosystems. American Whitewater, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and many other partner organizations worked with members of the committee to include this language and we are very proud of the momentum this effort has gained.
Experienced paddlers are all too often familiar with the dangers posed by low head dams, but for new river users, the slow moving upstream current and horizon line can be hard to spot and even perceived as harmless. American Whitewater’s database of whitewater accidents and fatalities, maintained since 1972, documents that 10% of river fatalities nationwide are a result of individuals getting caught in a low-head dam hydraulic. 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.
Over the past two centuries, tens of thousands of low-head dams were constructed across rivers and streams nationwide to provide services such as diverting water for irrigation or municipal and industrial water uses. While there is no reliable nation-wide inventory of how many low-head dams exist in the United States, several state and organization run inventories indicate that these structures are ubiquitous in nature. To address these impacts, we propose a nationwide inventory of low-head dams to enhance the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) existing National Inventory of Dams (NID) database as well as a technical assistance program to address the highest risk structures.