The issue of public safety around dams is important to anyone directly or indirectly involved in recreational activities in rivers or streams, especially as many Hoosiers are visiting areas for water recreation during the summer months.

Thousands of these “low head” dams are scattered across our country including several in and near Columbus. While the name implies low hazard/low impact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Low Head Dams have a quiet, inviting, picture postcard quality about them.  But the water going over these dams can rise and erupt into a violent, death trap.

These structures, generally less than 15 feet high, can create backflow currents and turbulence capable of producing disorientation, hypothermia, exhaustion, and brutal battering. The forces combine to create a practically inescapable circular trap for even the strongest, life jacket-clad swimmer.

Plan ahead

Before visiting areas for water recreation, plan to avoid low head dams. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources offers planning resources on canoeing trails throughout Indiana. More information is available at

Hoosiers and others planning water recreation in Indiana can access the Indiana DNR Interactive Low Head Dam Map. This map will provide more information about the exact locations of cataloged low head dams throughout the state.

WFYI Indianapolis has created a documentary on the dangers of low head dams. The documentary was filmed in partnership with IDHS, IDNR, the Indiana Silver Jackets, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, Manchester University and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others.  Check out a one minute preview of the WFYI documentary, Over, Under Gone: The Killer in Our Riversat

For Tips for Low-Head Dam Safety, please visit

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