Glen Canyon Dam

Lake Powell

We like to take the students to Glen Canyon Dam, which was not only a major engineering accomplishment, but also a good example of what water erosion can produce in a hurry. The dam is situated between the canyon walls near the Utah/Arizona border at Page, Arizona and holds Lake Powell. It is the second largest man-made reservoir in the United States. When full, it is about 180 miles long, has a shoreline of almost 2000 miles, and is about 500 feet deep in the main channel.

The dam was meant to control water flow on the lower Colorado River; however, in 1983 it almost became the victim of flooding from the upper drainages. It was an extremely wet spring. All the dams upriver began to open the spillways allowing huge amounts of water downstream.

The water filled Lake Powell dangerously high, and the overflow tunnels were opened. After awhile, the engineers were shocked to see the water coming out of one of the tunnels turn from clear water to the color of the sandstone. The water had eroded through 3 feet of steel reinforced concrete into the surrounding rock. They shut down the overflow tube, made make-shift plywood retaining walls and hoped for the best.

Finally, the danger passed. Later inspection of the damaged tunnel revealed that in a very short time, cavitation produced by the water flow had eroded an area 180 feet long and 40 feet deep – into solid sandstone.  Had the water been allowed to continue to pass through the tunnel, it is possible that the erosion could have caused the dam to fail sending a devastating wall of water downstream.

Grand Lake

That would not have been the first time that happened if creationist theories of the formation of the Grand Canyon are correct. We think that there was an enormous lake 2000 feet deeper than the present Lake Powell, and which extended hundreds of miles further upstream and into the surrounding area.

When it collapsed through a natural barrier, a good share of the present Grand Canyon would have been carved out by the flooding waters very quickly. We point out to the students that the cavitation that occurred at the Glen Canyon Dam is just a small picture of the enormous erosion that a lot more water could produce in a very short time during Noah’s Flood and subsequent events.

Dave Nutting

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