Gatun Dam

From ‘The Panama Canal’, Frederic J. Haskin, Doubleday, Page & Company. 1914.

Gatun Dam proved the happiest surprise of the whole waterway. In every particular it more than fulfilled the most optimistic prophecies of the engineers. They said that what little seepage there would be would not hurt anything; the dam answered by showing no seepage at all. They said that the hydraulic core would be practically impervious; it proved absolutely so. Where it was once believed that Gatun Dam would be the hardest task on the Isthmus it proved to be the easiest. Culebra Cut exchanged places with it in that regard.

A vintage postcard of Gatun spillway, Panama Canal.

The spillway through which the surplus waters of Gatun Lake will be let down to the sea level, is a large semicircular concrete dam structure with the outside curve upstream and the inside curve downstream. Projecting above the dam are 13 piers and 2 abutments, which divide it into 14 openings, each of them 45 feet wide. These openings are closed by huge steel gates, 45 feet wide, 20 feet high, and weighing 42 tons each. They are mounted on roller bearings, suspended from above, and are operated by electricity. They work in huge frames just as a window slides up and down in its frame. Each gate is independent of the others, and the amount of water permitted to go over the spillway dam thus can be regulated at will.

A vintage postcard of Gatun spillway, Panama Canal.

The spillway is so constructed that when the water flowing over it becomes more than 6 feet deep it adheres to the downstream face of the dam as it glides down, instead of rushing out and falling perpendicularly.


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