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A History of the Dam Simulator

By Sigrid PilgrimDam Simulator

The dam simulator, which has been displayed during the past 15 years at numerous events, continues to draw much attention. We will never know whether it has saved a life, but we believe that the visualization of the recirculation in a hydraulic has educated many, many people to the dangers of dams.

I have often been asked “where did the dam simulator come from,” so here is a brief history.

Back in 2000 when I chaired Paddling in the Park, the two-day paddlesports festival in Palatine, we used to have a planning session in late winter which Susan Sherrod also attended. She suggested building a dam simulator like her club, the Canoe Cruisers Association, once had. Susan developed the engineering drawings and provided a cost estimate for the parts needed. CWA member Jim Cronin applied for a grant from the Baxter Foundation, and Joel Neuman built the dam.

The rest is history. We received many requests to have the simulator present at various events, including several years at the State Fair in Springfield where it was in then Lieutenant Governor Quinn’s tent. One year we were asked to bring it to St. Louis for the ACA Whitewater Competition at Six Flags, and it was such a success, that we left it there and had another built for the Chicago area again. We still have many requests for the dam simulator from event organizers.

The late Marge Cline took great footage of the dam simulator during Paddling in the Park. We felt that this would be a great teaching tool if there was a way to make a video. Tom Lindblade, a skilled videographer, was able to do just that, adding footage of actual dams, appropriate music, and great educational voice over. The video was subsequently licensed to ACA, given this organization’s greater capacity to promote it through their Safety, Education and Instruction Committee.

We actively promoted the video through email and other efforts, and received many comments, e.g.:

  • From the Association of State Dam Safety Officials: “Do you mind if we make copies as several ASDSO members are intensely interested in low head dam safety issues and I imagine that many states would be interested in using the DVD as part of their outreach activities
  • From IDNR: “It is my firm belief that actions like your video will have far more impact on the safety of the users of our waterways than anything the legislature can mandate”

And many other requests, notably from the Vice President of the European Life Saving Association and faculty member of the Leeds Metropolitan University, who asked to contribute an article for his Handbook of Safety and Lifesaving and for permission to use the video in his lectures at the university.

With the new paddling season starting, please help promote this video again to your club or organization members, to paddlesport retailers, to the press, and anywhere else you can think of.   You can access it on the IPC website www.illinoispaddling.org – on the home page, scroll down to the video link, or click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5ajFJ4tuoA&feature=youtu.be

If you would like to own a copy of the DVD, please send a $10.00 check made out to:

Illinois Paddling Council, and mail to Sigrid Pilgrim, 2750 Bernard Place, Evanston, IL 60201

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The Dam Simulator can not only demonstrate the reversal in the hydraulic, but also other aspects:

1)      Modifying the hydraulic (1st photo): This takes some ‘engineering’ time by placing large boulders into the lip of the dam and smaller riff-raff, until the reversal action is broken up. Use one side of the dam with the modification – the other side without – and demonstrate the difference.

2)      Foot entrapment (2nd photo): Standing up in moving water deeper than knee-high can cause foot entrapment: feet get caught between rocks and the current pushes the person’s face over and into the water.

3)      Strainers (3rd photo): Little sticks at the outflow, by wedging them between rocks, and watch what happens when people and objects float into them.

 

 

 

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