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Title image: UC Region Colorado River Storage Project

Glen Canyon Dam

When John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River entered Glen Canyon, he noted the unique beauty of the canyon as “a curious ensemble of wonderful features.” These features carved by the forces of nature as described by Powell include “carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments.” An example of one of nature’s most impressive accomplishments, Glen Canyon is also the setting for one of man’s most impressive engineering and construction accomplishments. Glen Canyon Dam, rising 710 feet above bedrock within the steep, rust-colored sand-stone walls of Glen Canyon, was constructed to harness the power of the Colorado River in order to provide for the water and power needs of millions of people in the West.

Glen Canyon Dam is the second highest concrete-arch dam in the United States, second only to Hoover Dam which stands at 726 feet (above bedrock). But Glen Canyon Dam is significant for many reasons beyond its size. The 26.2 million acre-feet of water storage capacity in Lake Powell, created by Glen Canyon Dam, serves as a ‘bank account’ of water that is drawn on in times of drought. This stored water has made it possible to successfully weather extended dry periods by sustaining the needs of cities, industries, and agriculture throughout the West.

Hydroelectric power produced by the dam’s eight generators helps meet the electrical needs of the West’s rapidly growing population. With a total capacity of 1,320 megawatts, Glen Canyon Powerplant produces around five billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually which helps supply the electrical needs of about 5.8 million customers. The Western Area Power Administration markets the power which is sold to municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, Native American tribes, and governmental agencies in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Nebraska. In addition, revenues from production of hydropower help fund many important environmental programs associated with Glen and Grand canyons.

photo: Recreation activity at Wahweep Beach, Lake Powell
Wahweep Beach, Lake Powell

The designation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in 1972, underscores the value and importance of the recreation benefits associated with Lake Powell and the Colorado River downstream of the dam. The many recreational opportunities available draw numerous visitors from around the world each year. The NRA is managed by the National Park Service.

Glen Canyon Dam is the key water storage unit of the Colorado River Storage Project, one of the most complex and extensive river resource developments in the world. Without it, comprehensive development of the Upper Colorado River Basin states’ portion of the Colorado River would not have been possible. The foresight behind the CRSP has been well demonstrated as the purposes for which it was built have been realized. Glen Canyon Dam stands as a symbol of this foresight and of the significant accomplishments of the past, as well as the continued fulfillment of water and power needs for the future.


Last updated: July 25, 2014