Reality Capture and 3D Modeling to Assess, Manage Aging Infrastructure

27 December 2022Architecture and Engineering, autodesk, Construction, Digital Transformation, Revit, Water/Wastewater3D Model, Infrastructure, reality capture, Water/Wastewater



Lake Powell, held behind Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona, has been in the news frequently in 2022 because of the effects of a 22-year drought on the dwindling supply of water it stores. In addition to being a recreational area that can bring in a half-billion dollars a year, Lake Powell provides water and power to the western United States, including Las Vegas, NV.

Lake Powell, 2014; photo by Carol Sirko Dunn

Completed in 1963, the concrete arch-gravity Glen Canyon Dam has withstood nearly 60 years of weathering, water level fluctuations, and the sundry ravages that come with age. Because of this, the managing agency, Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), needed to assess the dam’s condition, and it chose reality capture and 3D modeling to do so.

In addition to sophisticated analytics, Autodesk Water Infrastructure makes information from water operations more accessible, reliable and available to be acted upon. If you’re interested in learning more about Autodesk Water Infrastructure, contact Applied Software today and talk to an industry expert.

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The need to find better tools for dam maintenance and resilience is not just a challenge at the aging Glen Canyon. Infrastructure management/maintenance has become a global concern, because about 20,000 dams were completed worldwide from the 1950s to 1970s.

Photo of river cutting through red sandstone in S-curves

During that time, computer-aided design wasn’t available. According to an Autodesk customer story, Glen Canyon Dam, one of the largest concrete dams in the world at 710 feet high and 1,500 feet across, was engineered and built using slide rules, trigonometric tables and hand drawings created on drafting tables. Thus, BOR had only paper plans and what was described by a member of the project team as “10,000 ancient blueprints” to rely upon as it sought to protect the infrastructure of the dam, which has been designated as National Critical Infrastructure.

Lake Powell, 2014; photo by Carol Sirko Dunn

Virtual model

BOR decided to create a detailed virtual 3D digital model of Glen Canyon Dam. 3D data can provide context beyond the original 2D paper documents, plus it can be dynamic. Digital models can be updated. New scenarios can be simulated. Changes in the future can be measured against the original data set.

The 3D model provides BOR with new capabilities for managing and maintaining the dam. It is easier to find, diagnose and repair damage, while predicting and preventing future problems.

Virtual model of Glen Canyon Dam; image: Autodesk University

Massive data

To create the digital 3D model, reality capture was needed. This involved collecting data about the dam—visuals and measurements of size, shape and position—then compiling it all into a computer model. The site was documented using cameras, sonar and laser-based LIDAR scanners.

BOR teamed up with Autodesk to scan and photograph the dam and its surrounding landscape. Images and measurements were taken of the interior and exterior of the hydropower plant, the downstream and upstream faces of the dam, and the crest of the dam. Using advanced tools, thousands of photos, 700 LIDAR scans, as well as videos were gathered from land, water and air.

Glen Canyon dam between red sandstone cliffs, water at bottom of gorge
Glen Canyon dam; image: Shutterstock

Data to digital

The scans of Glen Canyon Dam resulted in visuals and millions of data points in rich, photorealistic 3D point clouds. Using photogrammetry, photo models were developed from the photographs by merging overlapping pictures. To bring all the raw data together, ReCap Pro was used to compile a large, comprehensive point cloud.

The Autodesk customer story explained the point cloud was imported into Revit. Then a 3D technical model was developed combining old and new information, including individual components of the dam. The old 2D drawings and the new point cloud data were mapped together to show the way the components fit together as systems.

In the final phase of the project, the technical model was imported into InfraWorks. This enables real-time data streams about the dam’s performance—i.e. the amount of water being released and the amount of electricity being generated. The dynamic virtual representation of the dam helps operators view systems in real-time to identify risks and opportunities.


The dynamic 3D model of Glen Canyon Dam will help BOR prepare for the uncertainties that lie ahead. With it, the different disciplines can better operate and manage the dam.

For Glen Canyon and other aging dams, power plants, bridges, ports, and other critical infrastructure, dynamic tools like reality capture and 3D digital models can help visualize, monitor, maintain, and predict performance so infrastructure can be managed to last longer.



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