A fatality and a near fatality have occurred this spring due to people seeking recreational activities below hydro-electric dams operated by Wisconsin Public Service on the Peshtigo River.
In one instance a young man drowned while swimming below the Caldron Falls dam; in the other, a kayaker nearly drowned in the rapids below the Peshtigo Dam.
"We cannot stress enough how dangerous these activities can be," said Gil Snyder, Wisconsin Public Service Manager of Regional Generation. "Every year we reach out to our customers through the media across our service area to warn of the dangers that exist just above and below these operating dams. But it seems as though some people just don't pay attention to the message."
The company also posts signs warning of the danger, but the signs are sometimes ignored by people seeking the thrill of recreating in the rough water below dams.
Conditions near the dams can be especially dangerous in spring following the snow melt and after periods of heavy rain in which the dams must release more water into the rivers to keep reservoirs at the appropriate level.
Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay, Wis., owns and operates 17 dams along the Wisconsin, Peshtigo and Menominee Rivers.
It also co-owns and operates the Petenwell and Castle Rock dams on the Wisconsin River between Necedah and Wisconsin Dells.
There are hazards associated with every dam.
"I don't think people know or understand that there are significant currents and undertows created below the rushing water flowing out of the spillway gates and powerhouse," Snyder said. "Even the most experienced kayaker, canoe expert, or swimmer would be putting their life in peril trying to navigate the waters below dams."
Because of the significant danger inherent, Wisconsin Public Service is urging everyone to think twice about attempting any activity just above or below dams, especially when water flow through the dam is high.
Additionally, Wisconsin Public Service offers the following safety precautions for activity near dams:
- Obey all warning signs, fences, buoys, booms and barriers. They are put there to protect you. The areas inside are dangerous, stay clear of them.
- Any sirens and flashing lights indicate an imminent change in water level or flow.
- Bring a cell phone and contact 911 in an emergency.
- Wear a personal floatation device (PFD), a life jacket.
- Stay a safe distance outside of warning signs, buoys, booms and barriers when fishing, boating or swimming.
- Stay well back from the edge of waters above and below hydroelectric dams and stations.
- Never stand below a dam, or anchor or tie your boat there. Rapidly changing water levels and flows can take you by surprise and could swamp your boat or put you in the grip of an undertow.
- Stay off hydroelectric dams or station structures, unless Wisconsin Public Service has clearly indicated walkways, or observation points.
- Stay well back from the edge of a waterway where footing may be slippery.
- Don't wade into moving water.
- Never swim near a dam.
- Never boat or fish alone when near a dam.
- Leave your boat motor running to provide maneuvering power.
- Stay clear of spillways; changing currents and "boiling" waves that can make boat control difficult near dams. Reverse currents occur below dams and can pull a boat back toward the dam into the spillway and capsize it.
- Never anchor boats below a dam because water levels can change rapidly.
- Especially in spring, cold water can cause hypothermia that could result in death from drowning.
- Always have a safe escape route planned when near a dam. Be prepared to evacuate at the first sign of danger.
- Set an example for children, who may not be aware of the dangers, even if they can read. State explicitly where they can and cannot go and make sure you are close to them and can see them at all times.