Monday, June 24, 2013

1983 Grand Canyon Recollections - Part 1

Thirty years ago, we were on The Colorado River in Grand Canyon. We barely launched June 21 before the NPS closed the river indefinitely. It was an epic trip and we went through Crystal Rapid at the peak flow of 100,000 cfs.

Naturally, my mind is awash with memories from that trip on this 30th anniversary of the infamous 1983 Glen Canyon Dam Flood. We will post up snippets and thoughts over the coming days.

Today, we'd like to take a look back at what really happened to Glen Canyon Dam and what "could" have happened. Believe it or not, there was a very real possibility of a Biblical Flood from Lake Powell. Here is what "could" have happened:

"Below Glen Canyon Dam, a 580-foot tidal wave would blast through the Grand Canyon at twenty-five miles per hour, denuding its steep walls and leaving nothing alive. Three hundred miles downstream, a wall of water 70-feet high would surge over the parapet of Hoover Dam, likely causing it to collapse.

Each of the smaller dams below Hoover on the Colorado River’s stutter-step way to Mexico—Davis, Parker, Headgate Rock, Palo Verde, Imperial, Laguna, and Morelos—would topple in turn. From Glen Canyon to the Gulf of California, the river would have destroyed each obstacle that Man had placed in its path, just as it had destroyed many natural obstacles in its five-million year history."

Believe me, the specter of this possibility weighed heavily on our minds during that trip. As the near-debacle unfolded, of course, The Bureau of Reclamation kept a "smiley face" and tried to tell everyone everything was hunkie-dory. "No Problem," was the fed's mantra for every day.

Truth be know there was a very Big Problem but, naturally, we learned all the details long after the fact. High Country News did arguably one of the best post-mortems of what went on with the dam in a December 1983 article that you can read here:

The Bureau eventually made some real nice little videos talking about the event. In this 9-minute one you can clearly see the spillways spitting out the detritus of cavitation.

There's really no way to describe the palpable sense of anxiety which pervaded the daily events taking place 30 years ago. It was an amazing episode in Arizona history--that's for certain sure!

1 comment:

Wayne Ranney said...

Thanks for this reminiscence John! It was an amazing time and an amazing year. I cannot believe it is now 30 years! I'll be reminiscing myself on Earthly-Musings.