Low-head dam public safety awareness month

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – If you like being out in creeks and rivers, whether you’re swimming, fishing, or kayaking, you need to know this month is “Low-Head Dam Public Safety Awareness Month.”

These are the areas along rivers known to claim lives.

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“You may get out of it, but it may be too late you may have drowned before it actually kicks you out of it,” said Captain Chris Warren with the Lexington Fire Department.

Warren said low-head dams are what they call “washing machines.”

“Once you’re over the top of the dam and start moving down the river, the current is actually pulling back into the dam itself and creates just a churning motion,” Warren explained.

He said it doesn’t matter if you are an experienced swimmer, canoer, kayaker, or not stay away.

“Your chances of getting out of them are pretty slim,” warned Warren. “The water is so violent underneath water where it’s going down and hitting the bottom and turning back up that you can be washed in there for a long time.”

Low-head dams took at least two lives in 2020; a kayaker in Bourbon County and another Warren’s team responded to on the Kentucky River.

“He was actually swimming above the dam out in the open water.” said Warren. “The current got a hold of him where the water funnels back into those low-head dams, the current speeds up, and once the current speeds up, you can’t swim against it.”

Warren said looks from the top of the dam are deceiving.

“The top side of the water even in a canoe or a boat or swimming, the water looks calm, and it doesn’t look like it’s moving that fast,” said Warren. “And a lot of people get in trouble getting too close to it and not realizing their that close and get caught in the current and pulled over.”

He said if you get caught in one, try to grab on to anything.

“Try to grab on to rocks and trees, anything you can, and actually crawl along the bottom for as far as you can or as long as you can with a breath-hold,” Warren said.

Before you hit the water, know where these “washing machines” are located. Warren said you also need to have a personal flotation device or life jacket.