August 4, 2016 at 4:52 pm

The Teton Dam Collapse: An Essay on Modern Catastrophe – Part 1

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Failure of Teton Dam

Teton Dam Catastrophic failure on June 5, 1976

“As every dam engineer knows, water also has one job, and that is to get past anything in its way” David Macauley, Building Big, 2000.

I have written in another article about a potential disaster that could occur in Iraq if the Mosul Dam fails. I described the conditions of the dam built during the regime of Saddam Hussein on the Tigris River and the circumstances which has brought it to the brink of collapse.
Assuming that the dam fails catastrophically, which it would be likely to do if it failed at all, 2.7 cubic miles of water will be rapidly introduced into the Tigris River Valley almost instantaneously. That is a lot of water. A massive flood surge will sweep downriver at a rate of about 10 miles per hour, although, initially, much faster. It will travel roughly 40 miles by river from the dam breakout point to the city of Mosul in about 4 hours. The wave could be over 70 feet high as it reaches Mosul. 22 hours later the wave, by now reduced to about 50 feet high, will reach Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. 400 miles downriver from the dam is the City of Baghdad. When the flood hits Baghdad, about two days after dam failure, the surge will spread out inundating some 80 square miles of the city, with large sections near the river − the very heart of city − under 13 feet of water.

The death toll, not only from the flood itself, but also from the chaotic aftermath, could be a million people or more.

The death toll, not only from the flood itself, but also from the chaotic aftermath, could be a million people or more. The flood would likely knock out Iraq’s electrical system and cause severe effects on agriculture, which is practiced extensively in the fertile bottomlands of the Tigris Valley. There will be a massive population displacement. The flood wave will sweep all before it: cars, trees, wreckage of buildings, corpses of humans and animals, unexploded ordinance. The archaeological tragedy will also be profound. The ruins of ancient Ninevah among other sites, lie in the path of the flood.

All this should the dam give way.

mosul dam, iraq,

Photo: National Geographic

On February 29 of this year (2016) the U. S. Embassy in Iraq issued a warning, calling the situation “serious and unprecedented.” On Tuesday, March 8, U.S. Central Command briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee on the developing situation. General Lloyd Austin III stated to the committee that “if the dam fails, it will be catastrophic.” On Wednesday, March 9, after a briefing at the United Nations, Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. echoed General Austin’s opinion that a dam failure would be catastrophic and called upon U.N. member nations to lend their support, tweeting: “Work to stabilize Mosul dam must begin ASAP but all countries must step up to fund relief; public education on evacuation routes,”

Another one of the original engineers who worked on the dam, Nadhir al-Ansari, told Newsweek magazine that with spring warmth snowmelt will significantly increase the pressure on the already weakened dam. “In April and May, there will be a lot more snow melting and it will bring plenty of water into the reservoir,” he said. “I don’t think the dam will withstand that pressure.” As I write these words U.S. and Iraqi officials are working on a plan to evacuate up to 1.47 million people—the same plan that Nasrat Adamo called “ridiculous.”

Since that article was written in May, the Iraqi government has contracted with an Italian company to commence urgent repairs, which however, are yet to begin. On the upside one of the sluice gates is working and the reservoir is at present about 36 feet below full pool. But the condition of the bedrock below the dam is highly problematic and grouting operations are now underway. This process involves drilling boreholes into the porous bedrock and injecting up to two tons of concrete per day to prevent seepage, which if allowed to continue would quickly erode the limestone and gypsum bedrock to the point of failure.

If this dam fails the world will be confronted with a tragedy of epic, near biblical proportions. But it will also be presented with a lesson in mega-scale hydrology that, by extrapolation, could allow modern humankind a real sense of the scale of world-destroying floods experienced by our ancestors in prehistoric times.

If this dam fails the world will be confronted with a tragedy of epic, near biblical proportions. But it will also be presented with a lesson in mega-scale hydrology that, by extrapolation, could allow modern humankind a real sense of the scale of world-destroying floods experienced by our ancestors in prehistoric times.

However, it would be far better to derive whatever lessons are to be gleaned from this unfortunate situation by informed conjecture and computer models than to witness the possible death of more people than have been killed throughout the entire Iraq war. We will just have to wait and see what the outcome of this situation will be. Hopefully the Italian team can begin desperately needed repairs in time. If the dam holds through the spring run-off season there is a good chance of averting catastrophe by buying an extra year of time.

So here we are talking about a man-made flood, which, if it were to occur, would undoubtedly be one of the great humanitarian disasters of modern times. It is in the pondering of such a scenario that the sense of urgency wells up to do whatever it takes to stave off a tragedy of such magnitude. But, it should also provoke us to consider further the role that great fluvial catastrophes have played in human history and to seek after the causes of phenomenon such as mega-scale floods that are measured in millions to hundreds of million cubic feet per second.

It is of no small significance that most nations and cultures of the world have deep rooted myths of tremendous floods, which, if taken literally are clearly beyond the scope and scale of anything that can be referenced from modern experience. In the essay Cosmic Lessons: Burkle Crater, Noah’s flood and the Mosul Dam, I presented evidence for a natural event capable of generating a tsunami flood of enormous magnitude in the vicinity of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, one capable of drowning any civilization inhabiting the lands adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I have presented some considerable evidence in support of this possibility, but, only further challenging field investigation will yield up the proof. I have discussed the work of Dallas Abbott and her colleagues that indicates the possibility of a large bolide impact into the Indian Ocean capable of generating a tsunami of sufficient magnitude to cause widespread destruction. A tsunami as envisioned would leave marine deposits in its wake. Such deposits found in the sediment of the Tigris Euphrates plain would be powerful confirmation that such an event actually took place.

Chevrons_Megatsunami_Evidence

burckle crater, coffin bay, australia, randall carlson, sacred geometry international,
While an event such as a 1 or 2 mile wide meteor striking the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of the proposed Burkle Crater would undoubtedly generate tremendous devastation in the region, would it be of a magnitude sufficient to spawn legends of world destroying floods among Eskimos in the Bering Straits, or Native American tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, or the Mayans of Central America, or divergent indigenous peoples from Amazonia to Siberia, amongst numerous others? The answer is probably not. However, it is becoming apparent that events on a scale far beyond anything experienced in modern times, including extreme mega-flood events, have been a regular part of Earth history, up to an including the span of time that modern humans have occupied this planet.

Recent News: Chinese Mythical Great Flood May Have Really Happened. – Gizmodo

“…it is becoming apparent that events on a scale far beyond anything experienced in modern times, including extreme mega-flood events, have been a regular part of Earth history, up to an including the span of time that modern humans have occupied this planet.”

It turns out that an enormous amount of detailed information can be extracted from the various tales, legends and myths that constitute the legacy of ancient times − when considered in the light of modern knowledge of the planetary and astronomical environments. To this belief in floods on a scale almost supernatural I will return in another essay, after first examining some floods of a lesser magnitude that have been part of recent human experience. These modern floods, through diminutive compared to their ancient counterparts, can, nonetheless, impart tremendous insight into the nature of gigantic paleofloods and the recognition of their effects in the planetary landscape.

At present only a handful of researchers are fully cognizant of the profound and far-reaching implications of the convergence of geology, mythology, archaeology and history that is now underway.

At present only a handful of researchers are fully cognizant of the profound and far-reaching implications of the convergence of geology, mythology, archaeology and history that is now underway. But the paradigm is shifting and a much vaster and deeper view of the story of humankind on Earth is emerging.

But the paradigm is shifting and a much vaster and deeper view of the story of humankind on Earth is emerging. Recent and historical catastrophes that have been observed and documented can provide powerful insight into the nature of ancient catastrophes for which only myth and legend remain. Modern events, though of a smaller scale, nonetheless serve as potent analogies for understanding similar events from the past and aid in the recognition of the effects in the geological record.

One of the foundation principles of modern geological science is the principle of Uniformity, or Uniformitarianism, which can be summarized quite succinctly by the well-known phrase: “The present is the key to the past.” The idea is that phenomenon throughout the course of time are similar, that the laws of physics as we understand them hold constant, and that processes operating on the Earth today are similar to, or even identical with processes that occurred the past: i.e. the way water erodes the rock today is similar to the way water would have eroded rock eons ago. This is an extremely powerful analytical tool to facilitate understanding of events that transpired long before science was present to observe, but a problem arises when the principle is applied dogmatically under the assumption that phenomenon of the past was always on a scale and magnitude, or rate similar to that of today, which, we now know, is most certainly not the case. I hope, however, to apply the principle of Uniformitarianism in the manner for which it was intended, as a tool for decoding the geological record imprinted into the landscapes of Earth. So to that end, to more effectively understand great catastrophes of the past, we shall endeavor to understand modern catastrophes as an analog, again, keeping in mind that modern events are diminutive compared to their ancient counterparts.

Turning to North America we find a striking example of this juxtaposition of ancient and modern events involving catastrophic floods. In this case the flood was not merely potential, as is the case with a possible Mosul Dam failure, but actual, it did, in fact, happen. We have photos, videos, eyewitness accounts and in depth investigations that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, and we have the evidence of the field, demonstrating the effects of violent torrents upon the landscape. Very few Americans remember this event that occurred 40 years ago, in June of 1976, the last great dam disaster in the United State and the cataclysmic flood that ensued. This was the Teton Dam collapse that occurred with the failure of a newly constructed earth fill dam built in the headwaters of the Teton River, a tributary of the Snake River in eastern Idaho. The dam, 305 feet in height and 3200 feet in width at its crest, failed as its reservoir was being filled for the first time. The flood discharge just below the dam break out point was at least 1 million cubic feet per second, or greater. The largest flood of record on the Teton River was measured at 7000 cubic feet per second, which means that just below the dam breach the flow was about 150 times greater. The story of the dam collapse and ensuing flood is a truly remarkable one for many reasons and is worthy of further inquiry and consideration.

Similar in some respects to the flood story from the Middle East and the potential Mosul Dam failure in that region, there was also a great natural flood, a flood of considerably greater magnitude that occurred in prehistoric times near the same region as the modern Teton Dam flood. I will discuss this extraordinary flood in detail in another article. Suffice it to say, as far as this ancient flood goes, that at the end of the last ice age there was a weak sedimentary rock dam in a mountain pass close to the northern Utah, southern Idaho border. Behind this dam lay massive Lake Bonneville, a lake that was more of an inland sea than a lake, covering almost 20 thousand square miles during the later days of the most recent ice age. Modern day Great Salt Lake is but a minute remnant of this mighty ancient lake. At some point as the Great Ice Age came to its convulsive conclusion between about 13 and 14 thousand years ago, this dam gave way and a 300 foot deep torrent of water spilled over the divide and onto the Snake River plain. This flow was at least 20 to 40 times greater than the peak flow of the Teton Dam flood, and unlike the Teton flood whose peak discharge was only sustained for several dozen miles, this flood tore across more than a thousand miles of southern Idaho with no diminution in power, with sustained discharges approaching 40 million cubic feet per second. A scour trough gouged out by the torrent as it discharged out onto the Snake River Plain is now occupied by American Falls Reservoir. A consideration of the Teton Dam flood disaster provides a valuable analog for those larger scale prehistoric events that have swept over large regions of the Earth’s surface from time to time.

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To reiterate some key points developed so far in these recent articles: I have discussed potential flood disasters in the Middle East, both ancient and modern. I have speculated, with some degree of confidence, that behind the tales of gigantic, world destroying floods emanating from the ancient Middle East, there was a real deluge event of extraordinary magnitude triggered by a bolide impact into the Indian Ocean. I have presented substantial evidence supporting this conclusion.

I have introduced a concept I call time-transgressive juxtaposition, referring to phenomenon of a similar or parallel nature occurring in the same geographic region but separated in time, producing an “overprint” effect, a superimposition of effects upon the same landscape. As an example I described the circumstances surrounding the Mosul Lake Dam and the possibility of an extreme disaster should it fail, thereby causing a disastrous flood along the Tigris River valley with the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people and how this echoes the vast legendary inundation of the same region thousands of years ago preserved in myth, legend and holy writ. A flood of this magnitude would leave definite imprints upon the landscapes over or through which it passed. So to what extent is there evidence of a major hydrological event in the Middle East from a time period that might be consistent with chronologies derived from the various legends? Only further research will confirm or refute such a conclusion but it ought to be said that hard geological evidence continues to accumulate for the occurrence of at least one vastly destructive flood in the Middle East since the end of the last ice age. To this critically important story I will return in another essay.

Before leaving the discussion of the Middle East and turning closer to home I would note that since I began writing this article I have learned that the team of specialists from Italy has finally been dispatched and is now undertaking emergency measures to stabilize the precarious dam. Hopefully their efforts will be successful. Meanwhile the Islamic State (IS) is terrorizing the inhabitants of nearby Mosul, sealing off all outlets out of the city and brutally punishing even the slightest infractions of their version of Islamic law. However, the word from escapees and refugees is that the population is turning against them. It appears that with the U.S. led offensive to retake Mosul the volume of news has diminished, with few reports on the dam’s status appearing since mid-April.

I am grateful that the Mosul Dam has not failed, so far sparing the world an immense humanitarian catastrophe. But to the dam that did fail I would now direct your attention to see what insight may be acquired relative to understanding events of long ago.

Here is what happened: In America’s Bicentennial Year of 1976 the newly built Teton Dam in Idaho failed, unleashing a massive torrential flood into the headwaters of the Snake River. This was the last great dam disaster in America and effectively pulled the plug on the Federal Bureau of Reclamation’s program of monumental dam building that had been going on for some 75 years. James Sherard, one of the post failure investigating engineers, was quoted as saying: “the Teton Dam failure is one of the most important single events in the history of dam engineering.” At a meeting of the House subcommittee investigating the Teton Dam collapse, Congressman Leo J. Ryan of California, heading up the congressional investigation of the catastrophe, called it “one of the most colossal and dramatic failures in our national history.”

The story of this event deserves a wider telling than it has received for its lessons are many. Like the current predicament of the Mosul Dam, the failure of the Teton Dam was the result of a confluence of human errors and has a peculiar connection to another kind of humanitarian catastrophe that happened just over two years later.

So, before delving deeper into the details of this American dam disaster, I would take a short tangent and mention something about Congressman Ryan whom I quoted above. As some older readers may recall, Ryan was shot to death in Guyana in November, 1978, by members of the Peoples Temple, the fundamentalist religious cult founded by Reverend Jim Jones that was, at the time, the subject of a Congressional investigation being led by Ryan. The Congressman, along with three journalists and a defector from the group had visited Jonestown, the community founded by the People’s Temple in the jungles of Guyana. As they attempted to leave the country from a local airstrip they were attacked by members of the group and a gunfight ensued. Ryan was killed along with the three journalists and the defector.

The following day Jones, and over 900 members of the group committed mass suicide by drinking cyanide laced Kool-Aid. (Actually Flavor-Aid) The lessons to be gleaned from this incident, and the events leading up to it, are extensive and worthy of further consideration but this is not the place for that undertaking. Suffice it to say that the Reverend Jim Jones was an avowed Marxist and the emigration to Guyana from California was for the purpose of setting up a socialist utopia. All members of the Temple were expected to surrender their individuality, and hence their humanity, to the good of the group, (and, of course, its leader) and this they did to its extreme and disastrous culmination, although, at the end many of them, no doubt, had second thoughts, but by then it was too late. What the members of the Peoples Temple did was to follow the logic of collectivism to its tragically inevitable conclusion, and whether you call it Marxism, Communism, Fascism, Socialism, or Statism, does not matter, the result is that the value of an individual life is subordinated to that of the group and has no worth apart from the group and its abstraction, the “State.” And, as is always the case, this devaluation of the individual and of individual rights is undertaken in the name of equality and social justice. The perverse consequences of a collectivist belief system are now being experienced firsthand by the citizens of Guyana’s neighbor, Venezuela, as the socialist paradise of Hugo Chavez collapses before our eyes.

Jim-Jones-Socialism-Katrina

In the case of the Peoples Temple, with an extreme example of the abdication of one’s individuality, we can discern a parallel to disasters of a purely natural origin, in that both are the result of a certain pattern of confluent forces converging at a critical node. As it was with the mass suicide of the members of the Peoples Temple, so it is with the economic catastrophe that now befalls Venezuela, so it was with the great natural catastrophes of Earth history, whether of endogenic or exogenic origin, and so it was with the Teton Dam disaster. All catastrophes are the outcome of, and are preceded by, a pattern of events unfolding in space and time. Discernment of these patterns forms the basis of prophecy.

All catastrophes are the outcome of, and are preceded by, a pattern of events unfolding in space and time. Discernment of these patterns forms the basis of prophecy.

But I digress. Returning to the story of the Teton Dam and the valuable lessons it has to impart I will now briefly describe the events leading up to the disaster, the collapse of the dam, and the aftermath, keeping in mind that the entire series of events was initiated as a result of political choices and priorities.

To be continued… – RC

Continue on to part 2 here.

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