Category Archives: Safety

Dam Mitigations All Around Iowa

Sure. You may be delighted those frigid temperatures are a thing of the past. But in a wet year, the low temperatures from January through March kept water levels low enough in rivers around Iowa to get contractors moving on dam removal and mitigation projects statewide. These projects were each years in the making, and the latest wave of them will change how Iowans recreate and navigate. Here’s a run-down:

Ames

https://www.cityofames.org/government/departments-divisions-i-z/water-pollution-control/construction-projects/north-river-valley-low-head-dam

This project replaces the River Valley Park Dam with a divided channel, half for whitewater waves and half for fishing and fish passage. It also preserves the dams water supply function.

 

Fort Dodge (2 dams)

Little Dam (also called Lower Dam) was removed in February, completing the project. Paddlers can safety float from the Phinney Park Access on Lizard Creek down to Dolliver State Park unimpeded, and fish can move freely as needed as far upriver to the remaining portion of Hydroelectric Dam. A rocky bed was uncovered in this area.

Hydroelectric Dam, formerly a 16-high dam, is removed down to a few feet high through summer, when it is expected to be completely removed. The removal is staged into 2 steps in order to prevent all sediment in the impoundment from being released at the same time. HOWEVER, recirculating currents will continue to be a safety hazard remaining portion of the dam until the dam is fully removed because the dam’s height will still be about 5 feet. All boaters should avoid the stretch between the Hydroelectric Park Access and mouth of Lizard Creek until the rest of the dam can be removed – most likely later this summer.

Speaking of that first stage of removal, check out this time lapse video:

https://www.facebook.com/115815355132446/videos/349587482317072/

 

Quaker Mill Dam

Phase 2 of the project was completed this winter and the Maquoketa River takes a meandering course through the former bed of the Quaker Mill Pond.

 

Littleton Dam

The Littleton Dam on the Wapsipinicon River is completely removed. High water after ice-out prevented completion of the rock arch rapids that will take the place of the dam, and contractors will resume work after flows are reasonable for work to be done.

River Reading: Hazards and Obstacles: What to do?

 

Photo: Maquoketa River Water Trail: Whitewater feature

There are many hazards and obstacles in the rivers we paddle and it is essential you become proficient in your river reading skills if you plan to spend time on the water. Striving to be a learner will help keep you and others safe. Here are a few of the hazards and obstacles you may encounter on a typical river trip.

Obstacles/Hazards:

Low-head dam:
You can be trapped in a hydraulic and unable to escape. If trapped, try to dive below the surface when the downstream current is flowing beneath the reversal. These low head dam hydraulics are called “drowning machines”. ALWAYS portage around them. When planning a trip, know what hazard features exist on the stretch you paddle.

High water:
High water can exist when a river narrows or when recent rain has increased the current flow and depth. Consider these conditions before making the decision to paddle as an individual, even if the trip leader decides to paddle under these conditions. YOU are responsible for your own decision to make the trip. Knowing what is happening up or down stream can also be important.

Strainer:
Anything that blocks passage, but allows water to flow through. These items can be brush or fallen trees, bridge pilings, or undercut rocks. They can allow the river current to sweep through and can cause capsize and/or pinning or can hold you under the water trapping you. Avoid these obstacles and be able to know and have the paddle skills to avoid these. Allow enough space to pass by the obstacle safely as the hydraulic may pull you in closer.

Sweeper:
branches hanging low over or into water that can sweep a paddler from the boat. Avoid these when paddling and refrain from reaching out to grab them when passing by.

Broaching/Pinning: When a boat is pushed sideways against a rock, bridge structure, or other hazard by a strong current. It may collapse and wrap around you and trap you inside your boat.This is especially true for kayaks. To avoid pinning, it is best to throw your weight downstream towards the rock or hazard.This may allow the current to slide underneath your boat hull. “Love and lean” toward the obstacle, typically, that is facing downstream. It allows water under your vessel to help dislodge it.

If you capsize:

Try to hold onto your boat if possible by keeping your boat in front of you, (heading down river). Never allow the boat behind you or the weight and current pushing on you can cause safety issues such as pinning, foot entrapment, broken bones, etc.
If you can not hold onto your boat, LET GO!

Do NOT ever try to stand up in fast moving current. Stay floating on your back with your feet held high and pointed downstream and try to navigate to shore. You may need to swim at times to avoid obstacles.If you try to stand, it is possible for your foot to become trapped in an underwater obstacle causing a pinning hazard that can result in drowning. Only stand up in moving water if it is shallow (less than knee deep) or in “slow” moving water.
Other paddlers should try to help get your boat and gear for you.
Bilge or drain the water from your vessel.
Change clothes from your dry bag supplies.

Learn rescue and other life saving techniques:

Learn self rescue and two person rescue techniques.
Learn how to use a “paddle float” and bring it on trips
Learn how to throw a “throw bag”, then bring it on paddle trips. It could save a life.
Take a class, attend a pool session.
Watching YouTube rescue technique videos can help increase skill level.
Learn to be a competent swimmer.
Take a CPR and first aid class.

When helping another paddler, help in this priority order:

Help paddler first.
Locate paddle.
Try to catch boat floating downstream, or pull to shore if possible and remove water by bilge pumping out or turning upside down over your kayak or on shore.
Locating lost gear is last priority.

Please note: the information, terms, and misc information was sourced through assorted publications, various online sites, assorted DNR brochures, “Paddling Iowa” by Nate Hoogeveen, www.paddling.com, and extensive readings.

Paddling Verbiage

Kayak and Paddle Terms: 

Stern: the back portion of the boat
Bow: the front of the boat
Cockpit: the opening where you sit
Deck: top of the boat
Foot braces: pedals or ridges feet rest on
Blade: the flat section of the paddle
Tip: the end of your paddle
Shaft: the section between the blades of your paddle
Powerface: the side of the blade catching the water on your paddle
Backface: side opposite the powerface

Safety Gear:

PFD: personal flotation device (lifejacket): is a piece of equipment designed to assist a wearer to keep afloat in water. It is required by law to be in your boat.
Paddle float: a paddle float may be used for re-entry into a kayak after a capsize in open water.
Throw bag: a throw bag or throw line is a rescue device with a length of rope stuffed loosely into a bag so it can come out through the top when the bag is thrown to a swimmer. A throw bag is standard rescue equipment for kayaking and other outdoor river recreational activities.
Bilge Pump: a pump to remove water out of a vessel
Whistle: attach it to your PFD. One blast is for attention; three blasts is “help.” (SOS)
Helmet: good for use when play boating or surfing waves or when flipping is possible
Knife: for use during river paddling where the danger of entanglement can be very real, it makes sense to carry a sheath knife on your PFD.
Tow rope: tow system is great to have when boating with kids or inexperienced paddlers who may become fatigued during long paddles.

River Features:

Eddyline– boundary between the circular eddy and the downward current flow.
Eddy: water rushing around obstacles, circulating downstream, towards shore in a reverse current. Current flows to fill void created by flow of water. It can be a good location to get out of the rivers current to take a break or to wait for others.
Ledge drop: any drop-off where the depth of the bottom goes from shallow to deep in a short distance. It can be caused from a former dam site.
Volume: the volume of a river is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). Cfs is determined by calculating the number of cubic feet of water that passes a single point on a river over the course of a second.
Pillow: pillows are created when water hits a rock head on and folds back on itself creating a cushion like bumper against the face of the rock wall.
Riffle: the riffles of rivers tend to be where water is shallow and the current is strong. A riffle is a rocky, shallow area in a stream where water cascading over rocks creates a noticeable surface disturbance.To identify a riffle, look for a choppy surface or whitewater spilling over shallow rocks into deeper water.
Friendly V: a V pattern in the river that points away from you. It is a good path to take.
Unfriendly V: a V pattern that points toward you warns of an obstruction, avoid this.
Gradient: the steepness of the river bed, expressed in feet per mile.
if less than 2 feet: slow river, few riffles ( can paddle 3 miles per hour)
over 5 feet, expect fast water and riffles

Please note: the information, terms, and misc information was sourced through assorted publications, various online sites, assorted DNR brochures,”Paddling Iowa” by Nate Hoogeveen, www.paddling.com, and extensive readings.

Littleton Dam removal on the Wapsipinicon River may create hazardous ice conditions

MEDIA CONTACT: Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Outreach Coordinator at 515-243-3714.

LITTLETON, Iowa — A construction project on the Wapsipinicon River in Buchanan County to replace the Littleton Dam with a rapids, may create hazardous ice conditions on the river upstream. Work is expected to start on Monday, Feb. 11th.

Snowmobilers, ice anglers, and any other use of the Wapsipinicon River should avoid the area from the Cutshall Access to the Littleton Dam.

The first step of the project removes the dam, which lowers the water level supporting the ice by about five feet. The ice may appear to be stable, but may have several feet of empty space below it and collapse unpredictably.

“This is a temporary, but hazardous condition,” said Todd Robertson, River Programs Outreach Coordinator for the Iowa DNR. “The water level will go back up as the rapids are built, but ice probably won’t be around anymore by then.”

The rapids will be built so the water will pool to about the same level as it was before. Nine fatalities have occurred in the Littleton Dam’s dangerous currents since it was built.