Every spring, lock and dam staff place buoys on the Mississippi River identifying the restricted area of each dam in the St. Paul District. For the past five years, high water has prevented personnel from placing the buoys until July or August. The crew must wait to place the buoys until the river’s flow drops to 30,000 cubic feet per second and the dam’s gates are drawn out of the water to avoid the backwash from the dam that can kill people.
Unfortunately, when the buoys are not set before the start of the navigation season in April, recreational boaters get too close to the dam, increasing the risk of accidents. A few years ago, after an incident involving a man fishing too close to the restricted area of Lock and Dam 9 near Lynxville, Wisconsin, Jeff McCullick, Lock and Dam 9 equipment repairer, came up with an idea to prevent potential accidents.
McCullick suggested the Corps change the type of downstream buoys it uses. Instead of a single buoy anchored to the bottom of the river, he recommended the Corps consider attaching multiple buoys to the lower lock bullnose with a steel cable, kept in place by the river’s current. In testing, the new buoys were found to be less likely to be lost or destroyed by ice flowing through the dam in the spring, allowing the Corps to reuse the buoys every year instead of repurchasing them. The buoys’ anchoring location also allows the lock staff to place the buoys on the river sooner, when the water is at approximately the same level as the lock bullnose.
McCullick said, “Here at Lock 9 we have to deal with a wide array of tailwater elevations which would, at times, cause our one downstream buoy to be underwater making it invisible and causing damage and/or discoloration to the buoy itself. My goal was to create a system that would allow multiple buoys to be deployed giving a better visual to boaters that would also ride the tailwater up and down regardless of elevation. They can also be removed during the winter to protect them from costly ice damage.”
Although the U.S. Coast Guard only requires the Corps to place a single buoy to mark the dam’s downstream restricted area, McCullick suggested the Corps place three buoys. The additional buoys create a distinct line that is easier for boaters to see. The buoys are also easier for boaters to understand because they are labeled with restricted area day markers that match those on the lock wall.
Brian Sipos, Lock and Dam 9 lockmaster, said, “Jeff is an innovative thinker, since we’ve started using this new system we can get buoys in the water sooner than in the past thus making it safer for boaters. Using multiple buoys versus a single buoy sends a louder message to boaters identifying restricted areas. It also creates a distinct line for them to see at water level. We should be able to reuse these buoys for several years which also saves money as they won’t be subject to washing away by sheets of ice passing through the dam in the spring.”
The new buoys were tested at Lock and Dam 9 the last two years.