TODD M. LICHTENWALTER

Exploring the jungle at Ankasa with "Anti-Poacher" rangers on the border of Ivory Coast and Ghana

During the school summer breaks in 2000 and 2002, my good friend Eric Garner, who now runs the Corps lake in Northern New Mexico, was able to bring me on as a ranger for the busy summer seasons. A ranger wears many hats: patrol and safety on water and land, maintenance, science research, public outreach programs including environmental interp, monitoring of the dam, emergency rescue, landscape reclamation, encroachment cases, data base management, and the list doesn’t stop there.  In the July of 2002, 3 separate major low-pressure storm systems converged over the Balcones Escarpment North West of San Antonio, Texas, giving the area a year’s worth of rain in less than a week.  The resulting precipitation produced the largest flooding event ever on the record books.  Canyon Reservoir filled to capacity at 950.32 ft msl. and water rushed over the spillway for the first time ever.  The southern access road to the Dam was washed out, and more than 800 homes were destroyed or damaged.  With the reservoir at record levels, thousands of oak trees dotting the shoreline began to suffer from a lack of oxygen and most were not expected to survive. Once the spillway was breached, dam saturation and possible leaks required around the clock monitoring for months.  Check the photos below and get a sense of the action:     

Flood of Record

Canyon Lake 2002‚Äč

First water to come down the canyon. The spillway works as designed as trees on the hill were snapping like toothpicks as the water rumbled down to blow out the first bridge.

Notice the depth of earth carved out by the excavating power of the wall of water coming down the hill.  It is estimated that about two times the lakes volume in water went over the spillway in a very short time. There was still flooding down stream, but because the dam exists, the flooding was not worse. Without the dam, the entire city of New Braunfels could have potentially been flooded. A torrent of water from a bloated Canyon Lake sliced open the earth, exposing rock formations, fossils and even dinosaur footprints in just three days.

Notice the depth of earth carved out by the excavating power of the wall of water coming down the hill.  It is estimated that about two times the lakes volume in water went over the spillway in a very short time. There was still flooding down stream, but because the dam exists, the flooding was not worse. Without the dam, the entire city of New Braunfels could have potentially been flooded. A torrent of water from a bloated Canyon Lake sliced open the earth, exposing rock formations, fossils and even dinosaur footprints in just three days.

Until the roadways cleared 

this was our way into work.

Canyon Lake Headquarters-the dam holds

Travis and Judy document the extent of the damage.

Water levels continued to rise for a couple of weeks.  Working the graveyard patrol shift, one night was kinda dicey.  When it was time to take another water level reading inside the tower, I heard the sound of falling water.  The engineer that was on hand with me identified the location of a leak that could spell big trouble.  We scrambled to the junk pile and he put a plan into action that required sealing off the leak with rebar wire.  Once back at the tower it required leaning out and squeezing myself in between poles and reaching around to try and grab the tow rope we had fastened to the other end so that we could bend the wire around the pole that was leaking.  It was just out of my reach but with some strain it was finally grasped.  Turns out the leak was not critical but at the moment its was quite intense.

Colonel Wells and the Black Hawks arrive at Canyon Lake Headquarters

Colonel Wells and Senators Hutchinson and Gramm were present for the press conference

Discharges from the dam had to be halted temporarily because of rocks and debris that accumulated around the outlet structure.  Residents feared that when releases were initiated again, about 40 homes below the dam would be flooded because rocks and debris that washed down the spillway channel created a "plug" obstructing the Guadalupe's flow about a mile below the Dam. Clean up and repairs were expensive and slow, taking the course of year to amend. But the dam held true, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages in the towns downstream were spared.  Engineers said if the dam had broken, a wall of water going miles towards the Gulf of Mexico would have ruined many lives.