Work to replace an aging dam on the Wapsipinicon River in Buchanan County could create hazardous ice conditions on the water upstream.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are urging snowmobilers, ice fishermen and other users to avoid the Wapsipinicon River from the Cutshall Access near Jesup downstream to Littleton for the rest of this winter.

The 85-year-old dam at Littleton is being replaced with a rapids. The construction project is expected to start on Monday (Feb. 11, 2019).

According to DNR officials, the work is part of a long-term effort to reduce the hazards of low-head dams across Iowa. The man-made structures pose a drowning threat because they create recirculating currents that are hidden below the water’s surface.

DNR officials said the first step of the Littleton project removes the dam, which lowers the water level supporting the ice by about five feet. The ice may appear to be stable, but may have several feet of empty space below it and collapse unpredictably.

“This is a temporary, but hazardous condition,” said Todd Robertson, River Programs Outreach Coordinator for the Iowa DNR. “The water level will go back up as the rapids are built, but ice probably won’t be around anymore by then.”

According to Robertson, the rapids will be built so the water will pool to about the same level as it was before.

Statistics show nine fatalities have occurred in the dangerous currents of the Littleton Dam since it was built in 1934.

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