Definitive Dam Info

I am a day paddler, who is lucky enough to live on a river (the Eno River in NC). With an impending retirement, I am planning some adventures involving canoe camping. Is there a definitive listing of dams for rivers in the US? I’m particularly concerned about low head dams that I’ve not planned for. It would be great if there was an official listing, per river, of such features.

I’m going to go from my backyard river, to the Atlantic, via the Neuse River. Lots of dragging the boat through shallows at first and several low head dams in the early going, but once I get past the dam on Falls Lake, I’m told that there are no further dams.


Some information about rivers is elusive and hard to get. Guide books are a start. Ask around if you there are local paddling clubs. Google it.

We have lots of irrigation diversions and low head dams in the West. The safest way to scout for them is to drive upstream from the take out back to the put in. If the road does not follow the river then you have to piece the info together. Learn to see straight horizon lines, your only indicator of dams from upstream.

Big yes to this. Also, a google search on the names of the rivers and “low head dam” will often bring up news articles about tragic or near-tragic accidents. So that can be a fairly reliable but sad source of their locations. Thankfully more and more of these dams are being removed, or at least considered for removal.

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The group American Rivers is a useful source of info on particular paddling rivers, I’ve found, but when I looked up the Neuse it had no info on low head dams, though it did mention the Falls Lake reservoir, but if, as you’re told that is the last you’re home free.

With all the satellites we now have hanging around up there, there must be some way to access satellite views of just about anything, including rivers. I tried using Google Earth to view a river I’m familiar with and know where the low-head dams are located and, lo and behold, there was everything on the map except the low-head dams. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a Luddite, though. Perhaps there’s someone here who is more tech savvy that could direct you (well, actually, us) to a way of accessing current satellite views of rivers that would show low-head dams.
Otherwise your best info might be from local paddlers who do the river, a local paddling club, as ppine suggested. Lacking that, you’ve just been promoted to being an explorer. A cautious approach looking for that straight line , often with visible tree tops beyond but not visible tree bottoms are the warning signs of a low-head dam. When the current drops off, you may be entering a reservoir, however small, so be on the lookout for that straight line on the water following a drop in flow. There are usually roads, however small, associated with even small dams (how would they get concrete there otherwise?), so listen for traffic that might give an early warning.
If you suspect a dam, get toward whichever bank looks like it might be portagable well in advance of that line. Please understand, I know you’re no fool - But never ever approach a suspected dam from mid river. Every year people do that and some die because of it. Get out well upstream, tie up, hike down and take a look. If there’s a fault, if its a rapid rather than a dam, scout your run. Or plot your portage - there’s usually a trail to find somewhere near. Be safe. The currents just below low-head dams are dangerous and some rapids are better left alone.


Super helpful, guys!

Yes, it would be nice to have a definitive reference for LHDs, but it sounds like there’s nothing authoritative. NC is a well paddled state, so there are lots of folks who’ve done it and i can reference. I probably should the state paddling club for more info.

The main tributary to the Neuse is my backyard river, the Eno river and I haven’t found any information on its LHDs, even though I know of three definitively downstream of me.

The LHD just down river from me is almost always a placid boundary with a trickle going over it - you can paddle right up it most days. Of course, with heavy rains, it’s a death trap that will pull you over to your doom into turgid foam and rocks.

I’ve studied the route via Google Maps satellite view, but the resolution could potentially hide an LHD on smaller sections. I will train my gaze for the visual as well!

My son is a White Water kayaker, who has instilled great fear/respect in me for LHDs. In my searching for local river lore, I found a few tragic stories of inexperienced boaters who’ve gone over them to their deaths.

I’m very experienced in my flat water stretch, but I much to learn about open river canoeing. luckily, the Neuse has only a few Cat I and in rains, Cat 2 stretches. My biggest danger will be camping out in bear country.

Google Earth Satellite view is invaluable. You can also measure distances.
If you look at feature you are familiar with… say a rapid, you can get a lose idea of what it looks like via satellite and make assumptions of features you are not familiar with viewed from space. The date of the imagery is available and the cfs may or may not be for that date. Not absolute, but handy nonetheless.

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Another Google Earth user here, for scoping things out ahead of going any place new. Dams, even low head, are usually pretty apparent. You can see rapids but water levels change. Plus it gives you an idea of what is going on behind the wall of trees.

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There isn’t a definitive listing because some states don’t keep track of dams. Google earth satellite photos will give you, at least, a look.

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This might help you follow the rivers you are going to paddle:

If not, it is quite interesting.

Also, since your son is a whitewater paddler he might be able to point you to the American Whitewater (AW) safety database. AW (Charlie Walbridge) tracks river deaths and near misses and picks up LHD issues on non-whitewater rivers.

Excellent stuff, folks!

I have found smaller rivers are tough to suss out all LHDs, since Google Earth has variability in it’s resolution and our rivers in the east have tons of overhanging foliage.

I searched the American Whitewater Association’s database of accidents. I only found one for my whole route, and it’s one of the rarer funny stories:

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That is both terrible and hilarious.

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Certainly a huge hassle for rescue crews.

I dont know about other states but the PA fish and boat commish has a pretty good web site with links to river trails. On the ones I have done so far I have managed to put together a pretty good outline from there. A local outfitter is a great place for info also.