Boating, fishing or swimming this summer? Know the deadly risks around dams

Near a generating station the water may seem calm. But below the surface are powerful currents that can drag you to the bottom. And that’s just one of the dangers around a generating station.

Hydroelectric stations can be remotely controlled by operators many kilometers away. Throughout the day and night, as demand for electricity rises and falls, operators open and close gates at the dams and start and stop generating units. This causes frequent and rapid changes in water levels and flows around generating stations which can affect the safety of those who venture too close.

There are many areas upstream and downstream of hydro generating stations where the water is flowing quickly and can change completely within a few seconds when a turbine starts or a spillway opens. Water rushes out and the water level rises in a flash. It’s very easy to be caught off guard. A change in water flow can swamp your boat or pull you into an undertow.

Be alert to danger and obey all warning signs, fences, buoys and barriers that are there to prevent access to dangerous areas. Always stay clear of hydroelectric dams and station structures unless you are at a clearly indicated walkway or observation point.

When you are near a hydro dam:

• Stay away from the water’s edge. Rocks are frequently slippery and falling could be fatal.

• Keep your watercraft away from either side of the dam or spillway. A sudden change in the water can swamp your boat and pull you into an undertow, or cause it to overturn and sink.

Explain the dangers to children and always keep them close when you’re anywhere near a hydroelectric facility. Find places well away from any hydroelectric facility to enjoy your summer activities safely.

Prepared by Linda Carter, PHEc Public Safety & Education Coordinator, Manitoba Hydro.