FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A northeastern Indiana couple whose 24-year-old son drowned in a low-head dam is raising awareness about the dangers of dams.
The Hiebel family founded the Pelorus Project after Sean Hiebel died two years ago while kayaking in the Hosey Dam, The Journal Gazette reported . The organization has put up 30 signs along Fort Wayne’s three rivers warning kayakers and canoers to get out of the river before they reach a dam.
There aren’t any state or federal programs that fund signs on rivers to warn about the dams. Indiana doesn’t have standards for how large the signs should be or what should be written on them, so the Pelorus Project worked off of standards used in Iowa to design and place the signs.
Low-head dams can be deadly when the waters are high because people can get trapped in the hydraulic action of the water at the dam’s base. So far in 2017, 16 people have been rescued from low-head dams, four have been injured and four have died in the state.
Educating the public about the dangers of the dams is important because of the increase of recreational activities such as kayaking, canoeing and tubing along the river, said Dave Hiebel, Sean Hiebel’s father.
“For $150 you can get an inflatable kayak, and the suppliers don’t give people any warnings,” he said. “You can buy a canoe and two hours later drown at the dam.”
There are about 150 low-head dams in Indiana, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Many were used in the 1800s to power sawmills and grist mills and no longer serve a purpose.
Manchester University professor Jerry Sweeten researches dams to understand their effect on rivers. He said the dams should be removed.
“It makes no sense,” Sweeten said. “They serve no function.”
Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net