Last year, Californians near Lake Berryessa reservoir, located 75 miles north of San Francisco, were treated to a rare sight: a so-called “glory hole” in the reservoir draining excess rainwater. It’s been described as an inverted fountain and, perhaps less gloriously, like a toilet being flushed. No matter how you describe it, it’s an unusual sight to behold!
The glory hole is a 72-foot diameter, 200-foot deep circular pipe that was constructed in the corner of the reservoir to act as a spillway, allowing excess rainwater to be safely transported out of the reservoir and into a creek below the Monticello Dam that holds the reservoir in place.
In February of 2017, California received very heavy rain for a number of weeks, causing the reservoir waters to rise to unsafe levels. The glory hole is not designed for frequent use, but it’s been needed two times in as many years. Before that, it hadn’t been set into action since 2006.
The spillway was constructed in 1957 for storm events like what California experienced last year. When it was designed and constructed, the US Bureau of Reclamation thought that it would only be needed every 50 years or so. But things on our planet are certainly changing.
Safe to view from a distance, but not up close
The glory hole looks pretty daunting, and it’s safe to say that one shouldn’t get near it, especially while it’s allowing water to spill out of the reservoir. It’s able to move 48,000 cubic feet of water per second out of the reservoir, but has very little suction, meaning boats and other floating objects aren’t likely to be pulled into it – at least not very quickly. But still, it is illegal for individuals to approach the glory hole. Its proximity to the dam prohibits boaters from approaching the dam or the glory hole.
The glory hole did, unfortunately, claim one life, a swimmer named Emily Schwalen. In 1997, the 41-year-old Davis, California resident was sucked into the spillway. She was able to hold on to the side of the spillway for about 20 minutes before finally being swept inside. Her body was found several hours later.
So while it’s a beautiful sight, it’s definitely better experienced from a safe distance than up close!
Taking a closer look
In 2017, YouTube user Evan Kilkus flew a drone over the glory hole in order to get a closer look from a safe distance. It’s remarkable how beautiful yet hypnotizing it is. Have a look!