Colorado Department of Natural Resources Launches Public Outreach for Low Head Dam Safety

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The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) launched a statewide public safety and digital media campaign around low head dams on Colorado rivers and streams.  

Low head dams are engineered structures built into and across streams and river channels and represent a serious drowning hazard causing several accidents and fatalities in recent years.

“Led by the Department of Natural Resources, the low head dam initiative is a positive step to increase public safety and awareness around low head dams across Colorado,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of Colorado DNR.

Low Head Dam Safety Campaign Awareness
Designed to educate the public about the presence and necessary safety precautions surrounding low head dams to convey the drowning dangers that low head dams present to river users. Public safety at low head dams is becoming an increasingly important issue as the population of Colorado increases and citizens recreate more and more on waterways within the state. 

“Together with our partners,  the goal of this campaign is to improve public safety and encourage river users to know their risks before they enter a Colorado waterway,” stated Bill McCormick, P.E., P.G., Chief of the Division of Water Resources Dam Safety Branch and chair of the Colorado Low Head Dam Safety Steering Committee, a multi-agency effort formed in 2019 in the interest of river safety. 

The safety campaign takes aim at Colorado’s river recreationists and visitors. It includes radio, digital and social media education and awareness content. Other elements of the effort will include training for first responders who conduct rescues at low head dams and signage at selected low head dam sites to direct river users to safety before going over the dams. 

Campaign Launch
The official kick-off was held at River Run Park in Sheridan, CO. It included representatives from the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (Amber Weber), American Whitewater (Hattie Johnson), Mile High Flood District (Laura Kroeger), Public Safety Advocate and former State Legislator (Ruth Wright), Wright Water Engineers (Andrew Earles), and first responders specializing in swift water rescue (Technician Kyle Purdy, Denver Rescue One). 

What is a Low Head Dam?
Low head dams are engineered to divert streams and rivers for agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses; to prevent erosion and degradation of stream channels (grade control structure); and in recent years have been engineered to provide recreational amenities for boating, rafting, and tubing. An example of a recently constructed combination grade control and recreational structure is at River Run Park in Sheridan, CO. Diversion structures can be difficult to detect by uneducated river users approaching from upstream. Once river users go over a diversion structure low head dam, they can become trapped, and it can be extremely difficult to get out.  Unfortunately, this situation has resulted in many drownings.

Video of Low Head Dam Safety Campaign Launch 
Low Head Dam Safety - Media Kit

Learn more at: lowheaddamcolorado.com

Low Head Dam Safety Campaign Launch