Glen Canyon Dam
|Glen Canyon Dam|
The dam and Glen Canyon Bridge viewed from the southern side
|Location||Coconino County, Arizona, United States|
|Construction cost||$135 million
($981 million in 2015 dollars)
|Owner(s)||U.S. Bureau of Reclamation|
|Dam and spillways|
|Type of dam||Concrete thick arch-gravity|
|Height||710 ft (220 m)|
|Length||1,560 ft (480 m)|
|Elevation at crest||3,715 ft (1,132 m)|
|Width (crest)||25 ft (7.6 m)|
|Width (base)||300 ft (91 m)|
|Dam volume||5,370,000 cu yd (4,110,000 m3)|
|Spillway type||Twin concrete tunnels, controlled by double radial gates|
|Spillway capacity||276,000 cu ft/s (7,800 m3/s)|
|Total capacity||26,214,900 acre·ft (32.3356 km3)|
|Active capacity||20,876,000 acre·ft (25.750 km3)|
|Inactive capacity||4,000,000 acre·ft (4.9 km3)|
|Catchment area||108,335 sq mi (280,590 km2)|
|Surface area||161,390 acres (65,310 ha)|
|Max. water depth||583 ft (178 m)|
|Normal elevation||3,700 ft (1,100 m) (max)|
|Hydraulic head||510 ft (160 m) (max)|
|Turbines||5× 165 MW, 3× 157 MW Francis|
|Installed capacity||1296 MW|
|Annual generation||3.46 billion KWh|
Glen Canyon Dam is a concrete arch dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona in the United States, near the town of Page. The dam was built to provide hydroelectricity and flow regulation from the upper Colorado River Basin to the lower. Its reservoir is called Lake Powell, and is the second-largest artificial lake in the country, extending upriver well into Utah. The dam is named for Glen Canyon, a colorful series of gorges, most of which now lies under the reservoir.
The dam was proposed in the 1950s as part of the Colorado River Storage Project, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) federal water project that would develop reservoir storage on the upper Colorado River and several of its major tributaries. The project's main purpose was to provide water storage to ensure the delivery of sufficient water to the lower basin during years of drought, so as to allow the upper basin to better utilize its allocation of river flow as designated in the 1922 Colorado River Compact. However, problems arose when the USBR proposed to build dams in the federally protected Echo Park canyon in Utah. After extensive policy disputes and legal challenges with environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, they settled for a high dam at Glen Canyon.
Construction of Glen Canyon Dam started in 1956 and was not finished until 1966. When the reservoir filled, the dam began to deliver a regulated flow of water downstream and a supply of electricity to the region. In 1983, major floods nearly led to the dam's collapse, but disaster was averted by a close margin. By suppressing floods and other factors that once characterized the Colorado, the dam has led to major physical and ecological changes in the lower river. Controversy continues over the effects both positive and negative of the dam, which has also been antagonized in many literary works.
- 1 Background
- 2 Construction
- 3 Later history
- 4 Design
- 5 Environmental impact
- 6 Restoration efforts
- 7 Recreation
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Works cited
- 12 External links
In 1922, six U.S. states signed the Colorado River Compact to officially allocate the flow of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Each half of the Colorado River Basin – the upper basin, comprising Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – and the lower basin, with California and Nevada – was allotted 7.5 million acre feet (9.3 km3) of water annually, and a treaty between the U.S. and Mexico was signed in 1944 allocating 1.5 million acre feet (1.9 km3) to the latter country. The third lower basin state, Arizona, did not ratify the Compact until 1944 because it was concerned that California might seek to appropriate a portion of its share before it could be put to use. The total, 16.5 million acre feet (20.4 km3) annually, was believed to represent the river's flow at the time as measured at Lees Ferry, Arizona (the official dividing point of the upper and lower basins), 16 miles (26 km) downstream of present-day Glen Canyon Dam, while in fact it turned out to be the result of one of the Southwest's climatic shifts during the past 800 years. The dependable natural flow past Lees Ferry is now believed to be about 13.5 million acre feet (16.7 km3).
Annual discharge from the Colorado River and its tributaries ranges from 4 to 22 million acre feet (4.9 to 27.1 km3), and 10-year averages may fluctuate as much as 1 million acre feet (1.2 km3). In addition, the Colorado carries a heavy silt load that led to difficulties for the irrigation interests in the lower Colorado River Valley that were a primary benefactor of the treaties. The general consensus among inhabitants of the Colorado River basin and government officials was that a high dam had to be built on the Colorado to provide flood control and carry-over water storage for times of drought. Possible locations for this dam were debated for years, and in fact the Bureau of Reclamation's first study for a dam at Glen Canyon was made in 1924, in addition to studies for locations at Black and Boulder Canyons lower on the Colorado, below Grand Canyon. However, these studies found that the lower Colorado sites had stronger foundation rock which might result in less reservoir seepage. The Glen Canyon site, furthermore, was so remote that delivering supplies and transporting workers there would be infeasible at the time.
The initial need for a reservoir was realized in 1936 with the completion of Hoover Dam in Black Canyon, marking the first time man held "control" of the Colorado. However, even with Lake Mead's mammoth storage capacity, it was not able to handle the worst floods or droughts, and was filling with sediment at a rate that would render it useless in a few hundred years. But most importantly, Hoover only controlled the lower portion of the river. The upper basin states, whose rivers flowed wild and free, had no way to ensure they could utilize their water allotment in dry years because of the lack of sufficient storage. Arizona also had qualms over the chosen site of Hoover Dam, because it was located in a relatively inaccessible northwestern corner of the state and was too far to provide water to the Gila River Valley, its major population center. A dam at Glen Canyon, just upstream of Lee's Ferry, would both be located entirely within that state and provide much of the power needed to pump water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson. Finally, the Glen Canyon dam would provide flow regulation between Lee's Ferry and Lake Mead which would make it more economically feasible for the USBR to go ahead with even more ambitious plans to construct hydroelectric generating facilities in the Grand Canyon as part of the Pacific Southwest Water Plan (see Bridge Canyon Dam).
This lack of water surcharge or insurance for the upper Colorado River basin led to a demand for what would later become the Colorado River Storage Project. The general outline of this project was for a dam on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon, several other dams on the Gunnison and San Juan tributaries of the Colorado, and a pair of dams to be built on the Green River, the Colorado's major upper tributary, at Echo Park and Split Mountain. The two Green River dams would have submerged more than 110 miles (180 km) of canyons in the federally protected Dinosaur National Monument, a move abhorred by environmentalists who did not want to see a repeat of the 1924 O'Shaughnessy Dam controversy, when a dam was built in a scenic valley in Yosemite National Park.
Led by David Brower, the environmental organization Sierra Club fought a protracted battle against the Bureau of Reclamation, on the basis that "building the dam would not only destroy a unique wilderness area, but would set a terrible precedent for exploiting resources in America's national parks and monuments". In the mid-1950s, the USBR agreed not to build the two dams – an act widely hailed as a major victory for the American environmentalist movement – but in exchange for a dam at Flaming Gorge, upriver from Echo Park, and increasing the size of the proposed dam at Glen Canyon to replace the storage that would have been provided by the Echo Park dam on the Green River. In fact, Brower and the Sierra Club supported the expansion of the dam at Glen Canyon. The only qualm that the environmentalists had about the proposed Glen Canyon Dam was that high elevations of its reservoir would extend into Rainbow Bridge National Monument, and a proposal to build a barrier to keep water out of the monument was fought over and litigated for years until it was permanently shelved in 1973. The Colorado River Storage Project was authorized in April 1956, and groundbreaking of Glen Canyon Dam began in October of the same year. A common misconception is that the environmentalists were given a choice between damming Echo Park and damming Glen Canyon, but the USBR "had always planned to build a dam at Glen Canyon, regardless of the outcome of the Echo Park debate".
In 1963, when construction on the dam was well underway, the Sierra Club published a book on Glen Canyon, The Place No One Knew, featuring photographs by Eliot Porter, and lamenting the loss of the scenic gorge before most of the American public had a chance to visit, or indeed know it. Brower had visited Glen Canyon shortly after the decision to build the dam, and "realized once he arrived that this was not a place for a reservoir". Though little known to most Americans before Porter's book, Glen Canyon had been visited by a handful of hikers and boaters (John Wesley Powell for whom the reservoir is named, leader of the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869, among them had explored the canyon pre-dam), and some had even been interviewed by Brower. As said to Brower by writer Wallace Stegner, who had been to the canyon in 1947, "Echo doesn't hold a candle to Glen."
Glen Canyon's overall design was based on that of Hoover Dam, a massive concrete arch-gravity structure anchored in solid bedrock, with several significant changes. The engineers wanted the dam to rely predominantly on its arch shape to carry the tremendous pressure of the impounded water into the canyon walls instead of depending on the sheer weight of the structure to hold the reservoir back, as had been done at Hoover. However, most of the rock in the region consists of porous and relatively weak Navajo sandstone in contrast to the stronger rock at the Hoover Dam site, forcing the Glen Canyon design to follow more conservative lines by greatly thickening the abutments, thus increasing the surface area through which the weight of dam and reservoir would be transmitted to the rock and relieving the pressure per square inch on the highly breakable cliffs. The primary designer and overseer of construction was veteran Reclamation engineer Lem F. Wylie, who had worked on the Hoover Dam project and had been chief engineer of six other USBR dams.
Before building the dam, Reclamation identified two possible sites, both located in the narrow lower reaches of Glen Canyon shortly upstream of Lee's Ferry. One, just 4 miles (6.4 km) upstream, was originally considered the superior site, but the final decision was to build the dam 16.5 miles (26.6 km) upstream because of stronger rock and easier access to the gravel mining area at the confluence of Wahweap Creek with the Colorado. The dam site lay in a remote, rugged area of the Colorado Plateau, more than 30 miles (48 km) from the closest paved road, U.S. Highway 89, and a whole new road had to be constructed, branching off from Highway 89 north of Flagstaff, Arizona, and running through the dam site to its terminus at Kanab, Utah. Because of the isolated location, acquiring the land at the dam and reservoir sites was not incredibly difficult, but still conflicts arose with the ranchers and miners in the area (many of the Navajo tribe). Much of the land acquired for the dam was through an exchange with the Navajo, in which the tribe ceded Manson Mesa south of the dam site for a similar-sized chunk of land in New Mexico, which the Navajo had long coveted.
As a road link was obviously needed for transport across the canyon from one end of the dam site to the other, a bridge had to be built, several hundred feet downstream of the dam and capable of carrying not only workers but heavy construction material. An earlier footbridge built of chicken wire and metal grates certainly did not fit the bill. The contract for building the bridge was awarded to Peter Kiewit Sons and the Judson Pacific Murphy Co. for $4 million and construction began in late 1956, reaching completion on August 11, 1957. When finished, the Glen Canyon Bridge was in itself a marvel of engineering: 1,271 feet (387 m) long and rising 700 feet (210 m) above the river, it was the highest bridge of its kind in the United States and one of the highest in the world. By 1959, the bridge itself was a major tourist attraction and it was said that "motorists [were] driving miles out of their way just to be thrilled by its dizzying height".
Workers flooded into the dam site beginning in the mid-late 1950s, and the construction camp started out as a haphazardly organized trailer park that grew with the workforce. During the construction of the Glen Canyon Bridge, Reclamation also began planning a company town to house the workers. This resulted in the town of Page, Arizona, named for former Reclamation commissioner John C. Page. By 1959, Page had a host of temporary buildings, electricity, and a small school serving the workers' children. As the city grew, it gathered additional features, including numerous stores and a hospital, even a jeweler. It was intended to serve a maximum population of eight thousand, accounting for the workers' families; the peak workforce would eventually exceed 2,500 in the busiest phases of construction.
In 1956, work began on the two diversion tunnels that would carry the Colorado River around the dam site during construction. Each of the tunnels was 2,700 feet (820 m) long and 41 feet (12 m) in diameter, and had a combined capacity of 200,000 cubic feet per second (5,700 m3/s). The diversion tunnel at river right would be used for carrying the river's normal flow around the dam site, while the left tunnel, 33 feet (10 m) above the water, would only be used during floods. The lower reaches of the tunnels would later be used to form the lower ends of the dam's spillways. On October 15, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower pressed a button on his desk in Washington, D.C., sending a telegraph signal that set off the first blast of dynamite at the portal of the right diversion tunnel. Drilling the tunnels through the porous Navajo sandstone abutting the dam site posed major problems for the excavation crews of the Mountain States Construction Company, which won the contract for the diversion tunnels in 1956.
First, transporting workers and equipment to the bottom of the canyon was extremely difficult. Initially, transport was done by barge from the Wahweap Creek gravel deposits shortly upstream, but this was dangerous and was replaced by a vertical cable system when a barge capsized, spilling tons of machinery into the river. The geology of the area also posed problems. During excavation, the rock frequently broke apart or "slabbed" and collapsed into the tunnels, and metal bolts had to be drilled into the rock to secure it. The largest such event, on August 5, 1958, sent 5,200 cubic yards (4,000 m3) crashing down onto the upper portal of the left diversion tunnel. Material excavated out of the tunnels and excavations for the dam abutments on the canyon walls was used to build the two cofferdams that would keep the damsite dry during construction of the dam itself, the last of which was finished in February 1960. The upstream cofferdam was 168 feet (51 m) high, and it alone could store several million acre-feet of water to protect the dam site from flooding in the event that inflows exceeded the capacity of the diversion tunnels. On February 11, 1959, the right diversion tunnel was completed and began to carry the flow of the Colorado. The left tunnel was finished over three months later on May 19, 1959, slightly behind schedule.
Concrete placement and completion
With the Colorado River safely out of the dam site, construction could begin on the actual main body of the dam. The contract was given to the Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation for an astonishingly low $107,955,552. Then, right before construction could start, about 750 workers organized a strike because of a wage reduction due to the completion of public facilities at Page. In late 1959, salaries were raised by $4 a day, quelling the strikers. Concrete placement started on June 16, 1960, and started at a sluggish but growing pace. In 1962 the workforce topped out at nearly 2,500 employees laboring on the dam. Construction would ultimately claim eighteen lives and injured numerous other workers, but contrary to popular myth, no workers were buried alive in the concrete. Cement needed to make concrete for the dam came from the Phoenix Cement Company plant constructed for the purpose in Clarkdale, south of Flagstaff.
A huge concrete plant capable of putting out 1,450 tons per hour was installed, and a pair of cableways with movable towers with capacities of 50 and 25 tons each spanned the canyon, carrying the 12 yard concrete buckets to their final destinations on the steadily rising crest of the dam. The concrete was poured into modular 7.5-foot (2.3 m) high wooden blocks or "forms", the largest measuring up to 60 feet (18 m) by 210 feet (64 m); more than 3,000 of these blocks made up the main structure of the dam. Once the concrete cured, the wooden scaffolding was removed and shifted upwards to accommodate the next load of concrete. As construction efficiency increased, the workforce slowly decreased, as new methods of transportation and placement were implemented including conveyors and remotely controlled buckets. By late 1962, concrete was being poured into the dam at a rate of 8,000 cubic yards (6,100 m3) per day even as the workforce was scaled down to about 1,500.
At the beginning of 1963, the dam was high enough to begin impounding water; huge steel gates were closed over the diversion tunnels on January 2, and Lake Powell began to rise. On that day, Sierra Club leader David Brower entered the Oval Office in a last-ditch effort to delay Glen Canyon's inundation – but failed to convince the president. Construction continued and on September 13, 1963, the dam was topped out. Work on the power plant and spillways began directly after the dam wall was complete. The spillway tunnels were excavated around both abutments of the dam, dropping steeply from their control gates on Lake Powell to merge with the lower ends of the diversion tunnels. This measure saved cost, but introduced a weak point in the spillways – the point where the spillways met the diversion tunnels now had an abrupt directional change of 55 degrees. The upper ends of the diversion tunnels were then sealed with solid concrete. The first electricity was generated on September 4, 1964, with the power sent into the regional electric grid through a pair of long-distance transmission lines as far as Phoenix, Arizona and Farmington, New Mexico.
1983 floods and legacy
During the first half of 1983, a deep snowpack in the Colorado River headwaters, heavy spring rain and a rapid rise in temperatures that precipitated swift snowmelt combined to create perfect conditions for maximum runoff on the Colorado River. Faulty weather forecasts delayed emergency releases from the dam to prepare for the coming high water, and by June water was pouring into the reservoir at over 120,000 cubic feet per second (3,400 m3/s). Even with the power plant and river outlet works running at full capacity, Lake Powell continued to rise to the point to which the spillways had to be opened. Other than brief tests in 1980, this was the only time the spillways had ever been used.
At the beginning of June, dam operators opened the gates on the left spillway, sending 10,000 cubic feet per second (280 m3/s), just 7.2% of capacity, down the tunnel into the river below. After a few days, the entire dam suddenly began to shake violently. The spillway was closed down for inspections and workers discovered that the flow of water was causing heavy cavitation – the explosive collapse of vacuum pockets in water moving at high speed – which was damaging the concrete lining and eroding the rock spillway tunnels from the upper ends of the diversion tunnels, which connect to the bottom of the reservoir. This was rapidly being destroyed by the cavitation and it was feared that a connection would be made to the bottom of Lake Powell, allowing the entire contents of the reservoir to drain into the river downstream.
Meanwhile, snow continued melting in the Rockies and Lake Powell continued to rise rapidly. To delay having to use the spillways, Reclamation installed plywood flashboards (later replaced by steel) atop the gates to increase the lake level. Even this additional capacity was exhausted; discharges through the left spillway reached 32,000 cubic feet per second (910 m3/s) and the right spillway gates were also opened. Flows downstream at Lee's Ferry peaked at 97,300 cubic feet per second (2,760 m3/s), which was and still is the highest water flow recorded there since early construction work at the dam site in 1958. On July 15, Lake Powell reached its highest recorded level in history. Just as it seemed inevitable that the dam would fail, inflows fell and the dam was saved. Upon inspection, it was found that cavitation had caused massive gouging damage to both spillways, carrying away thousands of tons of concrete, steel rebar and huge chunks of rock.
Repairs to the spillways commenced as soon as possible and continued well into 1984. Aeration slots were installed at the bottom of each spillway to break up and absorb the shock of the bubbles formed by cavitation. In 1984, the Colorado River basin produced even more runoff than 1983, but fortunately Reclamation had drawn down the reservoir enough that it absorbed most of the early high flows. Nevertheless, Lake Powell rapidly approached the top of the spillway gates and construction efforts were subsequently focused on the left spillway in order to get it in operation in time. On August 12, the left spillway gates were opened, releasing water at a rate of 50,000 cubic feet per second (1,400 m3/s). The spillway was undamaged, proving the worth of the re-engineering and suggesting that Glen Canyon Dam will also be able to hold against future floods with the magnitude of 1983.
Long after the Glen Canyon Dam was built and continuing to the present day, heated debate continues between those who believe the dam should remain in place and those who think it should be removed. "Without Glen Canyon Dam, the big sponge of Lake Powell to absorb the flood years, there's no way that the upper basin states could put their seven and a half million acre feet of water to use. They say now of course that Glen Canyon isn't needed, you don't divert any water out of Lake Powell, well, you do divert water out of Lake Powell by transfer. When you divert water through the mountains in the Utah and Colorado into other uses, it's really out of Lake Powell because it's the big storage that's possible there-- makes possible the upper basin a development," said Former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Floyd Dominy, a figure heavily associated with the building of Glen Canyon Dam and many of the other big dams built by Reclamation. On the other end of the line, David Brower called the dam his worst mistake and "the biggest sin I ever committed" because of the compromise his organization made to build it instead of Echo Park.
On March 21, 1981 four members of the environmental group Earth First! staged an anti-dam protest by unfurling a 300-foot (91 m) tapered black sheet of plastic down the face of the dam, making it appear as if a gigantic crack had appeared in the structure. Authorities were unable to find the individuals responsible.
The Glen Canyon Institute and other environmental organizations continue to advocate for the decommissioning of the dam and the draining of Lake Powell.
Structure and storage
The Glen Canyon Dam impounds the Colorado River about 1 mi (1.6 km) northwest of Page in the narrow lower reach of Glen Canyon and 16.4 miles (26.4 km) upstream of Lee's Ferry. The dam is 710 feet (220 m) high from the crest to the foundations and has a crest length of 1,560 feet (480 m). The maximum height above the river is about 583 feet (178 m). Overall, the dam relies on its arched design to carry the reservoir's weight into the canyon walls, but because of the sheer scale of the structure and the relatively weak surrounding rock, the dam has medium thickness of about 300 feet (91 m) at the widest point. The crest is 3,715 feet (1,132 m) above sea level and the river immediately downstream sits at 3,132 feet (955 m).
Two spillways and four high pressure outlet works protect the dam against floods. Located on both sides of the dam shortly upstream, the spillways are concrete-lined tunnels that drop sharply through the canyon walls abutting the dam, emptying into the lower ends of the diversion tunnels to save the expense of digging new tunnels. Each spillway is controlled by two 40-foot (12 m) long, 52.5-foot (16.0 m) high radial gates and is capable of carrying 138,000 cubic feet per second (3,900 m3/s) for a combined capacity of 276,000 cubic feet per second (7,800 m3/s). The river outlets consist of four 8-foot (2.4 m) diameter pipes each controlled by a follower gate and hollow-jet valve with a capacity of 15,000 cubic feet per second (420 m3/s). Glen Canyon's spillways were used for flood purposes only once in 1983, which caused severe damage that nearly led to dam failure (see section above).
The power plant at Glen Canyon Dam is located at the foot of the structure and contains eight 155,500 horsepower generators with a combined capacity of 1,296 megawatts (MW). Each generator is driven by a turbine which is in turn fed by a penstock with a starting diameter of 15 feet (4.6 m), narrowing to 14 feet (4.3 m) as it enters the turbines. Five generators are rated at 165 MW and the remaining three have a capacity of 157 MW each. Before an uprating project in the late 20th century, each of the generators were rated at 118.75 MW for a total of 950 MW. The maximum hydraulic head for the power plant is 510 feet (160 m). Power generated at Glen Canyon is distributed by the Western Area Power Administration.
Lake Powell is the second-largest reservoir in the United States, with a full storage capacity of some 26,214,900 acre feet (32.3356 km3). The original design storage capacity of Powell was some 27,000,000 acre feet (33 km3), but some of it has been compromised by sedimentation. At maximum pool, the reservoir reaches 186 miles (299 km) upstream to the mouth of Cataract Canyon, covering 252 square miles (650 km2) with a twisting, winding shoreline of over 2,000 miles (3,200 km). The active capacity is 20,876,000 acre feet (25.750 km3) and the inactive capacity is 4,000,000 acre feet (4.9 km3) (the lowest point where electricity can still be generated). The dead pool volume is 1,900,000 acre feet (2.3 km3), marking the lowest point where water can be released through the dam. Although the dam lies in northern Arizona, the vast majority of the reservoir is actually in southern Utah. Many arms branch off the lake, the longest being those formed by Wahweap Creek, Navajo Creek, Last Chance Creek, the San Juan River, the Escalante River, Halls Creek, and Bullfrog Creek. The reservoir lies mainly in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
By and large, the Glen Canyon Dam's main purpose is to fulfill the agreement in the Colorado River Compact made by the upper basin states to allow at least 7,500,000 acre feet (9.3 km3) of water to flow annually past Lee's Ferry for use by Arizona, Nevada and California. The dam is operated to maintain a minimum annual release volume of 8,230,000 acre feet (10.15 km3) or about 11,350 cubic feet per second (321 m3/s), which is well over the amount stipulated by the compact but not enough to deliver enough water to Mexico as written in the 1944 Treaty for the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande. The balance is contributed by tributary inflows entering the Colorado between Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam (about 760,000 acre·ft (0.94 km3) annually), as well as tributaries below Hoover, although many of those have been diverted for irrigation in central Arizona.
When the dam was first built, the set annual release volume was believed to be the minimum sustainable flow of the Colorado River past the dam site minus the Upper Basin's allocation of 7.5 million acre feet. Reclamation's studies suggested that the Colorado and other tributaries that feed into the reservoir, such as the San Juan and Escalante, would dump more water into the reservoir during spring runoff than could be efficiently released to maximize power generation on an average of one out of every four years, so the reservoir is operated to reach a peak annual volume of 90% of capacity during July, with power plant releases scheduled based on runoff forecasts. The 1983 and 1984 floods dramatically demonstrated that runoff could not be predicted accurately enough all the time. Since then, even though Glen Canyon was never built for the purpose of flood control, Reclamation has maintained a minimum of 2,400,000 acre feet (3.0 km3) of flood-storage space in the reservoir (approximately 9% of Lake Powell's capacity) to be available on January 1 of any year. In the 21st century, protracted drought caused Lake Powell to drop significantly, reaching a record low of 33% full in 2005. The highest level Lake Powell has reached since the early 2000s was approximately 78% full in summer 2011.
The dam's powerplant is operated as a "cash register" power station, meaning that sales of the electricity it generates was used to pay for the original construction cost and is used for maintenance needs as well as a source of revenue for the Bureau of Reclamation. In fact, the primary function of the dam is power production; it wields more than 75% of the hydroelectric capacity of the entire Colorado River Storage Project. The dam also serves as a primary peaking power plant and black start power source for the electrical grid of much of the southern Intermountain West. Colorado River flows fluctuate daily below the dam, as much as 15,000 to 22,000 cubic feet per second (420 to 620 m3/s) every 24 hours, depending on power demand. Minimums may drop as low as 1,000 cubic feet per second (28 m3/s) in December and highs as much as 31,500 cubic feet per second (890 m3/s) in June and July (the full discharge capacity of the turbines). In an average year, the power plant uses only about one-fourth of its full capacity, producing 3.454 billion kilowatt hours (KWh). Annual power output has ranged from a high of nearly 10.4 billion KWh in 1984 to less than 2.0 billion KWh in 2002.
Because of its tremendous ecological effect on the Colorado River, the Glen Canyon Dam has inspired heavy controversy from environmentalists. Because of its location in the desert amid porous geology, Lake Powell causes huge evaporation and seepage losses. It is estimated that between 675,000 acre feet (0.833 km3) and 1,000,000 acre feet (1.2 km3), with an average of 860,000 acre feet (1.06 km3), is lost from the reservoir each year, although this amount greatly decreases when the lake is low. This amounts to 6-8% of the Colorado River's flow, an increasingly valuable amount of water in an arid land for both humans and the animals and plants that live along the river.
Like all dams, Glen Canyon traps silt, but because the Colorado is an especially high-sediment river, the dam has posed even worse consequences for the river between it and Lake Mead (essentially, the Grand Canyon). About 100 million tons of sediment are trapped behind the dam annually, equal to about 30,000 dump truck loads daily. Because of the dam, sediment deposited by the Colorado and its tributaries is slowly filling up the canyon, and the most optimistic projections put the useful life of the reservoir at 300–700 years. If no action is taken such as dredging, in a few hundred years, sediment deposits will begin to build up at the foot of the dam and will gradually block the different outlets used to release water. If drought intervened in the same period, the reduced storage in the reservoir would have less capacity to maintain the required release of 8.23 million acre feet below the dam. The Colorado below the dam could be reduced to a trickle, damaging habitat and compromising the water supply of the Lower Basin states.
The Colorado through Grand Canyon now lacks the source of sediment it needs to build sandbars and islands, and these natural fluvial formations within the canyon have now suffered severe erosion damage. The floods that once scoured the river yearly are now contained behind the dam except in the worst cases; the elimination of this periodic scouring has promoted vegetation encroachment which not only has considerably changed the riparian zone environment but has created problems for tourism, wherein hikers and rafters often cannot find good spots to camp due to overgrowth. Flow control has also caused an inability of the river to carry away the rockslides that are common along the canyons, leading to the creation of incrementally dangerous rapids that pose a hazard to fish and boaters alike. Before the dam, the Colorado commonly reached flows of more than 90,000 cubic feet per second (2,500 m3/s) during the spring; this has been limited to less than 35,000 cubic feet per second (990 m3/s) most years with few exceptions.
Glen Canyon, which Lake Powell flooded, was really more of a narrow and steep sided valley than a canyon and was once described as the "biological heart" of the Colorado because of its abundant riparian growth and streamside habitat on the numerous low river terraces. The canyon once supported 79 plant species, 189 bird species and 34 kinds of mammals. Below the dam, the Colorado has turned into a "death zone for native fish" such as the endangered humpback chub as said by Nikolai Ramsey of the Grand Canyon Trust. Throughout most of the year, water released by Glen Canyon is a consistent 47 °F (8 °C) due to a thermal mass effect in Lake Powell where the water typically released from hundreds of feet below the lake surface through the penstocks is insulated from temperature fluctuations by the thick layer of water above it. Pre-dam, the river ranged from over 80 °F (27 °C) in the heat of summer to just above 32 °F (0 °C) in winter.
In addition to the effect this has on native fish species, biologist and veteran river guide Michael P. Ghiglieri proposed many drowning deaths by boaters in the Grand Canyon Colorado have been caused or exacerbated by rapid hypothermia and hypothermic shock caused by entering the cold water. He further noted during the record post-dam high-flow season of 1983 (mentioned above), there was only one boating fatality in the canyon, providing a strong challenge to views that the dam, by reducing and mediating river flows, increases the safety of canyon river users. The river water temperature in 1983 was significantly higher than normal, due to a large portion of the water having come from overflows of warmer surface water over the spillways of Glen Canyon Dam, rather than the colder lower levels which feed the penstocks.
On March 26, 1996, the penstocks and two of the outlet works' bypass tubes at Glen Canyon Dam were opened to maximum capacity, producing a flood crest of about 45,000 cubic feet per second (1,300 m3/s) on the Colorado River. This was not due to any flood or mechanical failure, but rather was a controlled effort to assist the recovery of the damaged riverine ecosystem by mimicking the spring freshets that once swept through the canyons yearly. The flow appeared to have scoured clean numerous pockets of encroaching vegetation, carried away rockslides that had become dangerous to boaters, and rearranged sand and gravel bars along the river, and was considered an environmental success.
Contrary to the initial results, the following years revealed that the offensive vegetation had not been carried away as previously thought – only buried, and had mostly recovered within six months. The surface area of sandbars had been increased, but much of the material had been eroded from the submerged portions of the bars and deposited on top, making them unstable, rather than scoured from the riverbed as hoped. Reclamation has repeated the floods periodically, another time in 2004, 2008,  and again in 2012.
Nevertheless, some continue to believe that the dam has too large and severe of an effect on the river's ecology to make restoration efforts worthwhile.
Lake Powell is one of the most popular houseboating and water-skiing areas in the United States; the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which surrounds the reservoir, receives more than 1.9 million visitors annually.
About 300,000 of these tourists travel via boat to Rainbow Bridge in Utah, a large natural arch once very hard to access, but now easily reachable because one of the arms of the reservoir extends near it.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area draws more than two million visitors annually. Recreational activities include boating, fishing, waterskiing, jet-skiing, and hiking. Prepared campgrounds can be found at each marina, but many visitors choose to rent a houseboat or bring their own camping equipment, find a secluded spot somewhere in the canyons, and make their own camp (there are no restrictions on where visitors can stay).
Currently most Marinas on the lake don't have Automatic Identification System monitoring stations that transmit boat positions to the AIS websites for the boating community. A substantial number of vessels on the lake do not have AIS transponders, so extra precautions must be taken with respect to boating safety. The telemetry system used to monitor the hydrologic activity of the lake by the federal government agencies in charge of the dam does not at this point support AIS monitoring, creating an additional safety gap.
Because most of the lake is surrounded by steep sandstone walls, access to the lake is limited to developed marinas:
- Lee's Ferry Subdistrict
- Page/Wahweap Marina
- Antelope Point Marina
- Halls Crossing, Utah Marina
- Bullfrog Marina
- Hite Marina
The following marinas are accessible only by boat:
In popular culture
- Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang describes the fictional efforts of a group of environmentalists who fantasize about blowing up the dam. In his previous non-fiction work Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey also describes his exploration of the canyon shortly before the dam was built (chapter 11).
- In detective novel Wet Desert by Gary Hansen, the Glen Canyon Dam is destroyed by environmental terrorists.
- The dam was used as a location in the 2011 Doctor Who episode "Day of the Moon".
- The dam was used as a location in the television cult classic, Route 66 . "Layout at Glen Canyon" (episode 9, season 1) was broadcast December 2, 1960.
- The 1999 video game Hydro Thunder prominently features the dam in the Lake Powell level.
- List of dams and reservoirs in the United States
- Navajo Generating Station
- Katie Lee, activist against the dam
- "Glen Canyon Dam". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 1980-02-08. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- "Dimensions". Glen Canyon Dam. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Hoover Dam 75th Anniversary History Symposium, p. 282
- "Glen Canyon Dam Hydraulics & Hydrology". Colorado River Storage Project. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
- "Glen Canyon Powerplant". Glen Canyon Dam. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2009-05-13. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- "Law of the River". Conservation. Southern Nevada Water Authority. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "Treaty Between the United States of America and Mexico: Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande" (PDF). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 1944-02-03. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "The One-Dam Solution: Preliminary report to the Bureau of Reclamation on proposed reoperation strategies for Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam under low water conditions" (PDF). Living Rivers. July 2005. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "Historic Colorado River streamflows reconstructed back to 1490". EurekAlert. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2006-05-25. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "CRSP Benefits". Colorado River Storage Project. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2009-09-21. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
- Rogers, p. 9
- Stevens, pp. 15-18
- "Chapter 3 – The Benefits". Lake Mead: The Story of Boulder Dam. U.S. National Park Service. 2008-02-01. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "Colorado River Storage Project". U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2010-05-04. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- "Chapter IX: Dinosaur National Monument (continued)". A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin. U.S. National Park Service. 2004-09-06. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- Billington, Jackson and Melosi, p. 398
- Billington and Jackson, p. 337
- Martin, pp. 304–307
- Rogers, p. 16
- Rogers, p. 13
- "David R. Brower (1912-2000)". Glen Canyon Institute. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- Rogers, p. 14
- Billington, Jackson and Melosi, p. 184
- Rogers, p. 15
- Parks, p. 10
- Rogers, p. 20
- "A Span For A Dam". LIFE Magazine (Time Inc.). 1959-03-16.
- Nersesian, p. 295
- Parks, p. 12
- Parks, p. 25
- Powell, pp. 12-13
- "Glen Canyon Dam Construction History". Upper Colorado Region: Colorado River Storage Project. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2008-11-25. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
- Rogers, p. 23
- Rogers, p. 22
- Stimson, Thomas E. (October 1960). "The Dam That Spans the Canyon". Popular Mechanics. pp. 117–121, 314. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
- Rogers, p. 24
- "Glen Canyon Dam – Frequently Asked Questions". Colorado River Storage Project. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2008-11-25. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
- "Phoenix Cement: 50 & Growing". Verde Independent (Western News&Info). April 14, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2013.
- Rogers, p. 25
- "Let the River Run Through It: More than forty years ago David Brower made a mistake. Now he says it's time to bring Glen Canyon back to life.". Sierra Magazine. Sierra Club. March 1997. Retrieved 2011-05-24.
- Powell, p. 11
- Powell, p. 14
- Schneiderman, p. 11
- "USGS Gage #09380000 on the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, AZ – Peak Streamflow". National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1884–2011. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
- Powell, p. 3
- Weisheit, John (1996). "The Confluence" (PDF). Colorado Plateau River Guides 3 (3): 21. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Frizell, K. Warren (July 1985). "Spillway Tests At Glen Canyon Dam" (PDF). Hydraulics Branch, Division of Research and Laboratory Services, Engineering and Research Center. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- "Interview: Floyd Dominy". Glen Canyon: A Dam, Water and the West. KUED. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Adler, p. 15
- Gilmore, Jeff. "Defending Environmentalists' Punching Bag: Lake Powell". James E. Rogers College of Law. University of Arizona. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- Morrison, Patt (1991-06-16). "Terrorists or Saviors? : Environment: U.S. claims that Earth First! engaged in criminal conspiracy to disrupt nuclear facilities. The defense says the government is out to discredit the organization.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
- "Overview". Glen Canyon Dam. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- USGS Topo Maps for United States (Map). Cartography by United States Geological Survey. ACME Mapper. Retrieved 2009-10-29.
- "Colorado River System Facilities and Current River System Operations From Lake Powell to SIB" (PDF). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
- National Research Council & Committee to Review the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies, p. 56
- "Interview: Barry Wirth". Glen Canyon: A Dam, Water and the West. KUED. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
- "Record of Decision: Operation of Glen Canyon Dam Final Environmental Impact Statement" (PDF). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 1996-10-09. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
- National Research Council & Committee to Review the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies, p. 51
- "Economic Costs of the Glen Canyon Dam". Kenyon College. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
- "Water Supply and Lake Powell". Glen Canyon Institute. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- "Sediment and Lake Powell". Glen Canyon Institute. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Powell, James (July–August 2010). "Calamity on the Colorado". Orion Magazine. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- "Sediment and River Sand Bars in the Grand Canyon". Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. 2006-12-04. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Infalt, Susan B. (2005-03-10). "Colorado River Native Riparian Vegetation in Grand Canyon: How Has Glen Canyon Dam Impacted These Communities?" (PDF). Department of Geology. University of California Davis. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- "Lake Powell Reservoir and Glen Canyon Dam: Dam in Crisis". Humanists of Utah. August 2004. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Minard, Anne (2002-07-08). "Re-opening Glen Canyon's floodgates". High Country News.
- "Grand Canyon & Glen Canyon Dam: The Basics". Save Grand Canyon Again. Living Rivers. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Ghiglieri, pp. 211-215
- "Controlled Flood: Can Large Releases of Water Restore Habitats in Grand Canyon?". Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2005-04-21. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
- Minard, Anne (2002-07-08). "Re-opening Glen Canyon's floodgates". High Country News. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
- "Recent Sediment Studies Refute Glen Canyon Dam Hypothesis" (PDF). American Geophysical Union 83 (27) (Aspen Global Change Institute). 2002-06-18. pp. 273, 277–278. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
- "Man-Made Flood Rushes Through Grand Canyon". Fox News. Associated Press. 2008-03-06. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
- Arizona Republic (2012-11-19). "Floodgates opening to restore the Colorado River". Gannett. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
- "Rainbow Bridge National Monument". U.S. National Park Service. 2010-03-10. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- Adler, Robert W. (2007). Restoring Colorado River ecosystems: a troubled sense of immensity. Island Press. ISBN 1-59726-057-6.
- Billington, David P.; Jackson, Donald Conrad (2006). Big dams of the New Deal era: a confluence of engineering and politics. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3795-9.
- Billington, David P.; Jackson, Donald C.; Melosi, Martin V. (2005). The History of Large Federal Dams: Planning, Design, and Construction. Government Printing Office. ISBN 0-16-072823-1.
- Ghiglieri, Michael P.; Myers, Thomas M. (2001). Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon (Revised and Updated) (1st, tenth revision ed.). Flagstaff: Puma Press. pp. 211–215. ISBN 0-9700973-1-X.
- Martin, Russell (1990). A Story That Stands Like A Dam: Glen Canyon and the Struggle for the Soul of the West (1 ed.). Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-0822-5.
- National Research Council, Committee to Review the Glen Canyon Environmental Studies (1996). River resource management in the Grand Canyon. National Academies Press. ISBN 0-309-05448-6.
- Nersesian, Roy L. (2010). Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Services. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-2413-3.
- Parks, Timothy L. Glen Canyon Dam. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2875-7.
- Powell, James Lawrence (2008). Dead pool: Lake Powell, global warming, and the future of water in the West. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-25477-5.
- Rogers, Jedediah (2006). "Glen Canyon Unit" (PDF). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- Schneiderman, Jill S. (2003). The earth around us: maintaining a livable planet. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4091-8.
- Stevens, Joseph E. (1990). Hoover Dam: An American Adventure. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2283-8.
- Wiltshire, Richard L.; Gilbert, David R.; Rogers, Jerry R., ed. (2010). Hoover Dam 75th Anniversary History Symposium: Proceedings of The Hoover Dam 75th Anniversary History Symposium October 21–22, 2010 Las Vegas, Nevada. ASCE Publications. ISBN 0-7844-1141-7.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Glen Canyon Dam.|
- Glen Canyon Dam Overlook
- 1995 Glen Canyon EIS
- Glen Canyon Before Flooding – 1962
- Glen Canyon Institute
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
- Glen Canyon Natural History Association
- Geologic Map of the Glen Canyon Dam, 30ʹ x 60ʹ Quadrangle, Coconino County, Northern Arizona
- USBR Lake Powell daily water levels