The city of Topeka’s weir near its water treatment facility along the Kansas River has claimed the lives of three boaters in the past four years.
Mike Calwell, a longtime member of the Friends of the Kaw group, on Wednesday unveiled a plan he wants explored to help turn the low-water dam into “a rapids and not a place where people drown.”
Calwell presented a slideshow to the Topeka-Shawnee County Riverfront Authority during its meeting that outlined what he said would be an inexpensive undertaking that could be financed through grants, donations and matching city funds.
He asked that the riverfront authority sign a resolution expressing support for the project, but members thought it better to let city experts evaluate the technical aspects and report back at the authority’s next meeting in January.
The idea, Calwell said, is to take large rocks and boulders and fill in the downstream portion of the dam to eliminate the dangerous drop-off. This would turn it into a low-grade rapids.
“Our Topeka dam could be made into a beginners rapids,” he said.
With its current setup, river-goers can drop off the weir’s east side, become trapped in what is called a “keeper hydraulic” in the water at the base of the dam, and drown.
“I think this is pretty urgent if we’re talking about saving lives,” he said.
Calwell estimated the cost of filling in the dam with boulders at less than $250,000.
Don Rankin, a city public works department supervisor, was at the meeting and expressed concern that creating a rapids would generate a host of new safety issues.
However, Calwell said the rapids would be rated Class 2, which means anything — including rafts, canoes and inner tubes — could safely and easily navigate it.
Rankin also said the primary purpose of the multimillion-dollar weir investment is “to get the city water.”
“We don’t want something that is going to cause our structures to fail,” he said.
Doug Kinsinger, a riverfront authority member, said the idea would “certainly meet our objectives to make (the river) safer and more recreationally friendly.”
Kinsinger said he wanted city experts to help ensure it would be the correct engineering solution before proceeding to enlist the guidance of hydrology engineers with experience designing such projects.
Calwell visited Charles City, Iowa, a town of about 7,600 that had a similarly dangerous situation with a weir that caused a fatality on its Cedar River.
The city came up with enough money to have hydrology engineers construct a series of rapids that gradually bridged the gap from the top of the weir to its drop-off point below.
He said it has been a success of which the city is proud.
■ Joshua Bryant, 25, and Richard Heyroth, 30, both of Topeka, drowned Aug. 5, 2007, in the Kansas River when the canoe they were in capsized after it went over a spillway at the south end of the weir.
■ The weir also was the scene of the July 15 drowning of Ryan L. Moore, 36, of Lawrence, who was kayaking on the river.
The city in 2010 built boat ramps upstream and downstream from the weir.
Calwell said it is only a matter of time before another accidental drowning occurs near the dam.
A Facebook page dedicated to the movement to fill the Topeka dam has more than 1,000 people who have “responded enthusiastically,” he said. More than 300 signatures have been obtained with an online petition in support of it.
“Really, it’s the right thing to do,” Calwell said.
The riverfront authority’s next meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 18, 2012, at 1020 S. Kansas Ave.
Corey Jones can be reached
at (785) 295-5612
Link to the Original Website: