Low Head Dam Case

On July 24, 2015, Dani Lopez and Juan Santellano drowned at Lime Kiln Access in Neosho, Missouri due to the hazardous conditions created by the low-head dam located there.  While fishing with their families, Juan waded into the creek and unknowingly crossed the invisible reverse roller line or boil zone which pulled him back toward the dam.  Dani attempted to save Juan and also became caught in the deadly hydrologic forces created by the dam.  Both men lost their lives.   

Tens of thousands of low-head (or run-of-river) dams were built across the country in the 1800s to power run grist mills and small industries or create reservoirs for drinking water.  The combination of reverse currents, large hydraulic forces, low buoyancy, dangerous rotating objects, hard surfaces and disorientation create what has been described at the perfect “drowning machine.”  The dangers of these dams are largely unknown to the general public as the danger only exists under certain conditions which makes them all the more hazardous.  Due to an increase in outdoor recreation, “data shows that in the 3-1/2+ decades since 1980, while "only" 40 people have died as a result of dam failures, over 347, or almost nine times as many, have died from drowning at low head dams.” (“Low Head Dams:  What are They” by Bruce A. Tschantz, P.E.)  Many responders have also lost their lives attempting to rescue individuals caught in the deadly grasp of low-head dams.  

Plaintiffs sued The City of Neosho, The Missouri Department of Conservation and The Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  Plaintiffs settled with all three defendants for a confidential amount.  As part of the settlement with the City of Neosho, two signs warning of the dangers of the low-head dam were also installed on the pump station by the low-head dam.  Here is a link showing low head dam installation effects on coarse sediment.


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