The Augusta Utilities Department is planning a series of safety enhancements at the canal headgates area in response to a May incident in which three kayakers were swept through the canal’s intake structure.
In addition to warning buoys to be installed upstream of the headgates, the department has gated off an informal canoe and kayak launch area that offers access to the segment of the Savannah River above the city Diversion Dam and below the Stevens Creek dam a mile upstream.
City officials reported the May incident to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which asked what steps could be taken to avoid further accidents.
“It is in our recreation use plan we file with FERC that we restrict access for boating and swimming in the Augusta impoundment area,” utilities director Tom Wiedmeier said.
However, it may be possible to relocate the canoe launch site a few yards upstream from the existing area.
“We wouldn’t need to get very far upstream – just far enough where something could be done to keep people on the other side of the buoy line,” he said.
The kayaker accident occurred as an instructor allowed two novice paddlers to get too close to the canal headgate intakes. All three were swept through into the canal, but survived.
Although the canal is a popular park and recreation area overseen by the Canal Authority, it is owned by the city of Augusta and managed by the Utilities Department as a primary source of the city’s drinking water