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Another Dam Tour: Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona

Yes my friends it’s another dam tour. You might be thinking to yourself just how many dam tours does a person need to go on? Although I will admit I have been on quite a few dam tours, but what I find interesting about them is that the dams are all similar in their functions, but they each have their own story to tell.

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona

Dam tours are generally filled with mouth gaping information such as how much concrete was used. For Glen Canyon Dam 4,901,000 cubic yards (3,750,00 cubic meters) was poured to build the 710 foot (216 m) dam. Another statistic worth mentioning is the cost. The Glen Canyon Dam came in at $187,000,000 USD to construct. But unlike your college degree, it has paid itself back and then some. The dam’s revenue from power sales has made a staggering $3,145,123,503 USD as of April 22nd 2015. This number is constantly accruing as the dam is producing more salable power even as you read this. Counters are found in both the powerhouse and the visitor center where even watching for a few seconds you see the numbers increasing.

Although dams are impressive and necessary for many reasons, there is of course the big elephant in the room, the negative impact a dam has on the area. If you think about what a dam is doing, it should be no surprise that there are negative impacts. A dam changes what nature created, most often a free flowing river. The dam holds back the river water, creating a reservoir. I have been to dams where they have moved highways, towns and even an Indian Reservation to accommodate the dam’s placement and reservoir.

Glen Canyon Dam is no exception. The dam is located in Page Arizona and creates the reservoir Lake Powell. You’ve probably heard of Lake Powell as it is one of the top places to houseboat around in the United States. While houseboating may be fun the dam has changed the natural habitat of the fish in the Colorado river, decreasing their populations. Another impact is the water.  As the water is held in the reservoir it actually is evaporating off. 860,000 acre-feet evaporates off of Lake Powell each year, or about 6% of the Colorado River’s annual flow. It is enough water to supply the city of Los Angeles for a year.

Construction of Glen Canyon Dam started in 1956 and ended in 1966. Although the dam was constructed to last far into the future, it is our friend the Colorado River who may render the dam obsolete in 700 to 1000 years. Due to the large amount of silt in the Colorado River that back-fills Lake Powell. Without dredging the lake the silt will back up against the dam and the water will eventually breech the dam. Just from the experience of Boomer swimming in Lake Powell, I noticed he was covered in the silt, or muddy-like substance, once I convinced him to get out of the water. He of course did not mind, but it was not pleasant for my car’s interior.  Perhaps he thought he was doing his part by helping dredging the lake that day.

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
An old turbine on display at Glen Canyon Dam

There are of course positives to Glen Canyon Dam, one of which is hydro-power. Hydro-power is a clean energy, especially when compared to coal and oil. Glen Canyon Dam generates about 4.5 billion kilowatt hours, passing water through the turbines and then sending the water down the Colorado River.  According to the Bureau of Reclamation it would take 2.5 million tons of coal or 11 million barrels of oil to create the same amount of power. The dam has also aided in preventing damaging floods that use to plague the area.

The dam tour starts out in the visitors center, where we passed through a metal detector. We were only allowed to carry a camera, a battery and keys to our car. Like I said, I have been on quite a few dam tours, but this was the first tour that had guards following us around the entire dam.  Or at least guards that were obvious.

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
Looking at Lake Powell

We walked across the top of the dam, taking photos down the spillway, of Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Bridge. The Bridge is pretty impressive as it spans 1027 feet (313 m) and ranks as the 37th largest steel arched bridge in the world.

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
Glen Canyon Bridge

The tour was then led into an elevator where we descended to the base of the dam. We followed our guide outside, you know, on the side without water, where we found two interesting things. The first was a pipe with fast flowing water shooting out of it. The flowing water was seepage from inside the dam and according to the guide is constantly flowing. Although I am sure all dams have leaks but it was the first time I had ever seen evidence of seepage.  YIKES!

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
Who mows that?

Our attention was then turned to the grassy park like setting found at the base of the dam. When we had looked at this spot from atop the dam I had assumed the green color to be the green algae that the Colorado River is famous for being filled with. But it was grass, even begin watered by sprinklers. It was odd but the guide told us that the grass was planted to keep the dust down.

We then moved into the powerhouse, taking a peek at the 8 generators that can produce up to 1.32 gigawatts, which is enough power to supply a city of 1 million people or a Delorean to take you back to the future.

Now I understand why 1955 Doc Brown was freaking out about the large amount of gigawatts used to power the Delorean.  It is in fact a lot of electricity and worth freaking out about.

Glen Canyon Dam, Page Arizona
A view of the top of Glen Canyon Dam

The tour returned us back to the visitors center, which is filled with factoids about the dam’s construction and a gift shop.

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