Wichita, Kansas, has installed new, larger warning signs at an Arkansas River dam where a 24-year-old man drowned earlier this year.
Brian Bergkamp drowned in July at Wichita’s 21st Street dam as he tried to help another kayaker. The group of kayakers he was with didn’t see the small, faded yellow warning signs on the bridge until it was too late. Bergkamp’s body was found in the river nearly three weeks later, 6 miles away.
In 1979, two kayakers – Andy Abbott and Bradley Berschauer – also died at the same dam.
Kansas has an estimated 100 low-head dams, but no state regulations for warning signs.
The city has installed new 4-by-6-foot signs on the bank of the Arkansas River to warn people to steer clear of the dam and to exit the water to get around it, The Wichita Eagle reported.
The city is looking at several other locations around Wichita with low-head dams that need warning signs, said Troy Houtman, Wichita’s parks and recreation director.
Houtman said the city also plans to place warning buoys in the water there and hopes to work with paddling groups to educate them about river safety.
Dams like the one under the 21st Street bridge are what experts call “drowning machines” because as water flows over the top of the dam, it creates a circular current on the downriver side that pulls people and debris down, up and back toward the dam. This circular motion can put hundreds of pounds of pressure on a person in the water, and wearing a personal flotation device doesn’t really help.
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