Oroville Dam and the Grand Canyon

This past week, nearly 200,000 California residents who live down river from the Oroville Dam were ordered to evacuate for fear the dam may give way and flood. Residents have been allowed to return but with the understanding that they could still face another evacuation and are still living in a potentially dangerous situation.

When constructed properly, dams can hold back a tremendous amount of water and pressure from that water. However, if a dam is breached by water going over the top, it loses some of its integrity and strength and is susceptible to failure. This was the reason the evacuations below the Oroville Dam were ordered.

In an attempt to alleviate the situation, millions of cubic feet of water were released from the spillway. Hopes were that enough water could be released to keep the lake from cresting over the top of the dam.

However, the release of so much water resulted in massive erosion of the area around and immediately below the dam. Helicopters and other large pieces of equipment were used to place thousands of tons of large rocks into the eroded areas to prevent the situation from getting any worse.

Think about the effects and damage causes by the water running over the spillway at to Oroville Dam and then consider what would happen after 40 solid days of heavy rains along with vast deposits of subsurface water bursting forth would do.

In the summer of 2002, record rainfall in the Texas Hill Country overfilled Canyon Lake. Water coursed over the top of its dam and carved huge, steep-walled canyons through the limestone bedrock downstream. The scoured riverbed, now called Canyon Lake Gorge, is over a mile long and has been cordoned off for scientific study.

After studying the area for the last eight years, scientists are now making the same kinds of conclusions about rapid, catastrophic processes having sculpted the earth that creation geologists have been teaching for decades.

In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, geologists Michael Lamb and Mark Fonstad examined the colossal earth-carving damage that occurred in such a short time at Canyon Lake. They sensibly extrapolated that the event could be a useful model in interpreting similar gorges on earth and even on Mars.

Sanjeev Gupta, a field geologist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the study, told Science News, “Geology is typically about events that happened long ago and very slowly. This is the [sic] one of the first studies to study the effects of a single canyon-cutting event.”

But it isn’t one of the first at all.

In fall 2009, 45 geologists participated in a field trip to the “Little Grand Canyon,” about 1/40th the size of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, that was formed on March 19, 1982, after a dam breach triggered a catastrophic mudflow at Mount St Helens. The Geological Society of America published a field guide paper in 2009 on the event. Years before that, the Institute for Creation Research produced the documentary Mount St. Helens: Explosive Evidence for Catastrophe on the catastrophic results of the volcanic eruption. These resources showcase the awesome power that moving water has to produce massive erosion in short time periods.

Now, the Nature Geoscience authors similarly “show that the [Canyon Lake] flood moved metre-sized boulders, excavated [about seven meters] of limestone and transformed a soil-mantled valley into a bedrock canyon in just [about three] days.”

The “long ago and very slow” mindset has been a severe barrier to proper interpretation of geologic formations. For example, visitors to the Grand Canyon for decades have been told that it was carved by the Colorado River over long ages. But if that were the case, it would have left a rolling, rounded landscape, not the steep-sided canyon walls that look like those flanking the north fork of the Toutle River at Mount St Helens or the Canyon Lake Gorge in central Texas.

Lamb compared the “streamlined islands” of material that the Canyon Lake flood left behind to similar structures in the English Channel and the Channeled Scablands of Washington state. These had been explained by creation geologists as Ice Age-era, breached-dam local flooding events in which massive lakes drained into the sea, carving new landscapes along the way.

Alan D. Howard, a geomorphologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, has studied Martian landforms. As if taking a cue from a catastrophist creation-Flood geologist, he said concerning the Canyon Lake Gorge, “It doesn’t take millions of years to create an impressive channel. Flowing liquid can do a lot of work in a short period of time.”

Indeed, it can and certainly did.

Geologic events like what has just happened at the Oroville Dam, Canyon Lake in Texas and the Little Grand Canyon below Mount St. Helens, provide sound scientific evidence for things like the formation of the Grand Canyon in a short period of time, not millions of years.

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