A 22-year-old Landover man is missing and presumed dead after swimming in the waters near the Bloede Dam Sunday.
The man, Byron Diaz, was swimming on a beautiful evening with a group of seven friends in an area posted with “no swimming” signs. The group entered on the Baltimore County side of Patapsco State Park. Shortly after 6 p.m., Natural Resources Police officers on a routine patrol discovered a man on the fish ladder of the dam, searching for his friend. State park personnel and the Howard County Fire Department joined the search for Diaz. It continued this morning, though NRP spokeswoman Candus Thomson said the waters were too rough to send in divers and that the search would rely on using an underwater camera in the area where Diaz was last seen.
There have been five drownings at Bloede Dam in a decade, and this would be the sixth, Thomson said. At American rivers, director of river restoration Serena McClain has started a spreadsheet to document all the Bloede Dam deaths. She has 10 confirmed since 1981. American Rivers has been assisting the states and the federal government with dam-removal projects across the country.
Bloede Dam has been slated for removal because it is a hazard to those enjoying the state park and because it obstructs fish passage on the Patapsco and blocks shad and river herring spawning runs. Its removal is part of a larger, project to remove four dams from the Patapsco. Simkins and Union dams were already removed; Bloede is next and Daniels Dam will be last.
Maryland has budgeted $1 million for the dam’s removal. Another $7.7 million for the project comes from federal sources.
Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Kristen Peterson said the plan is to seek bids for the project in December and begin demolition in 2016.
McClain, at American Rivers said she would like the dam removal to move faster, but the project is complicated and involves relocating a sewer line.
“It is ridiculous that it’s taken this long to come to a head on a dam that hasn’t served a purpose and has continued to be dangerous,” she said. “We have to begin construction this year. We have to. There’s no excuse for leaving that dam in place and putting more lives at risk.”
Bloede Dam was built in 1907 to generate electricity for Victor G. Bloede's Patapsco Electric and Manufacturing Co. It has not generated electricity in 80 years. The dam is 230 feet across and nearly 30 feet tall. The dam has a fish ladder, but state wildlife officials have said it is ineffective.
The park has posted many signs, in English and Spanish, warning people not to swim there or slide down the dam’s face. But many summer visitors ignore the signs, and police officers spend a lot of time patrolling the area. There is a 300-foot boundary above and below the dam that is a no swim zone.
“You don’t know what you’re sliding into. It’s a river. Rocks move. It’s just an unknown. When the water is flowing, the water churns, and you can get pulled under,” Ranger Rob Dyke told the Bay Journal earlier this year. “We’re constantly going over there to tell people to stop.”
Recreational anglers have joined public safety advocates in pushing for the dam’s removal.
“Clearly, the wheels of bureaucracy moved too slow for Bloede Dam’s latest victim,” said Tony Friedrich, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association. “Getting rid of Bloede Dam just needs to be a priority for the safety of individuals enjoying the outdoors.”