TROY MILLS, Iowa — The dam where a Cedar Rapids woman drowned over the weekend has needed repairs for nearly a year and a half.
Andrea Zimmermann, 29, died near Troy Mills Saturday after she and three others in a tubing party on the river went over the dam on the Wapsipinicon River.
Robert Olinger, 32, Zachary Kirton, 27, and Amanda Harper, 31, swam to shore safely after the mishap.
The dam at the unincorporated community is what’s known as a “low-head” or “roller” dam because the water behind the dam churns due to hydraulic action.
The Troy Mills Dam is almost 300 feet long. But unlike other low-head dams the water does not go over the top evenly because there is a broken section of about 30 feet. There, the water rushes through creating a different type of hazard.
Joe Fiala, volunteer fire chief in Troy Mills, said he joined the department more than 30 years ago. In all that time, he can remember a couple of drownings near the dam. But until last weekend, no one in the water ever went over the dam or through the gap created when two or three feet of the dam broke off early last year due to high water.
Fiala now believes it’s a hazard that needs attention.
“I’m not an engineer, but it seems to me if the dam was level across the top from one end to the other it’s just a regular low-head dam. You wouldn’t have this turbulence we’ve got now,” Fiala said.
In addition to rushing water through the gap, Fiala said there are also obstructions in that area such as steel rebar sticking out of the broken concrete. He said that might snag a boat or a swimmer in a tube going through.
The non-profit Troy Mills Dam Association owns the dam.
Last fall, there was a push to plug the broken section. Volunteers and the dam association arranged for a crane and giant sandbags to surround the break and drain the water away to start repairs. But Fiala said things didn’t work out last fall for a fix.
“Weather changed, the water came up and it didn’t get done. You can only hold the water back so far and it just got too high on them,” Fiala said.
Doug Novak, a newer member of the dam association group, said he didn’t know anything about future repair plans. Other members of the organization could not be contacted.
Chief Fiala said he will raise the issue with them in the future to possibly restart the repair plans.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the Troy Mills Dam Association had a valid permit to start the repair process last fall. But group members never followed up by submitting photos and other information for a final OK on the plan.
The DNR would also be able to help financially if the dam owners wanted to remove the dam as was done in nearby Quasqueton.
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