Changes on the Beech Fork?

Posted by Spalding Hurst

February 12, 2006

The city of Bardstown is currently researching ways of increasing Bardstown’s water supply.

One proposed option is to raise the dam 2-3 feet. This will increase the hazards that exist at the dam. Or it can be constructed in a way that will remove the risks while adding
new and unique recreational opportunities to the river.

Elkhorn Creek Dam
Frankfort, KY

The problem with low-head dams:
Their purpose is to store river water for times of drought. During normal flows, water rolls lazily over them to the river’s natural level below. These structures may appear unthreatening, but over the years they have claimed so many lives they have been dubbed “drowning machines.”

Low-head dams are dangerous because of the hydraulic effect created when water flows over them. As water drops over the dam into the plunge pool below, an undertow is created, rolling the water toward the face of the dam, often pulling objects from downstream into the turbulence. These effects multiply as the volume of water increases. The hydraulic also extends farther downstream.

video of the “drowning machine” on the Elkhorn Creek in Frankfort, KY
and a report of a drowning at this dam on the Elkhorn

The solution:
Construct an artificial rock incline or rock rapids to alleviate drowning hazards. The artificial rapids will not only reduce the drowning danger but also will add recreational opportunities to canoeist, kayakers and rafters.

You essentially take a man made hazard and turn it into whitewater park while servicing the water needs of the community.

Who can build this?
Recreational Engineering & Planning is one company specializing in this field.

Recreational Engineering & Planning

All over the country rivers and streams have low-head dams and diversion structures.  Many of these are obsolete while some still serve important functions for communities, utility companies or irrigators.  Often these dams create a significant hazard for recreational users of rivers and account for a number of accidental drownings in the US every year.  Many communities are looking at ways to either safely remove or safely replace these deteriorating dams.  One of our specialties at Recreation, Engineering and Planning specializes in turning these unsightly hazards into recreational amenities.  Our company has worked on two types of dam removal projects.  In some cases the existing low head dam is enhanced while additional structures are added downstream to “step down” the drop over a series of drop structures.  In this case the existing dam structure remains and provides its design function—the difference is that what was often a single deadly drop is now a series of safer, more enjoyable whitewater rapids.  These types of dam removals can remove a hazard from the midst of a community and turn it into the type of tourist attraction that has significant effects on the local economy.

Modifications of dams are an exciting evolution in thinking about urban, working rivers.  Taking an existing hazard and creating a recreational highlight is becoming an attractive option for forward thinking communities all over North America from Calgary, Alberta to Springfield, Ohio.  Examples of Dam Removal/Modification below.

ark_before.JPG ark_bt_chute
Arkansas River Boat Chute (Before and After)

Bowling Green is advancing their plans for a whitewater park.
Take a look at the plans here.


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