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Hoover Dam: Conqueror of the Colorado

Jeffrey Syken

In 1900, farmers in California’s Imperial Valley - seeking to harness the untapped water resources of the wild Colorado River, dug canals to irrigate their fertile but dry fields. It was a bonanza that lasted only five years. In 1905, the raging river overran the canal banks and flooded a huge area creating an inland lake (the Salton Sea). To the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, it was clear something had to be done if the desert Southwest was ever to attract and sustain a population and experience economic growth. The answer was clear to a man named Arthur Powell Davis; construct a high dam in a deep canyon that could create a large reservoir to draw water from as needed. At first, it appeared the cost to construct such a dam would be prohibitive, but the solution was simple; use clean hydroelectric power generated at the dam site and sell it (and fresh water) to growing cities such as Los Angeles thus, the dam would pay for itself many times over. With that problem solved, location was priority. Two sites; Boulder Canyon and Black Canyon (on the Nevada-Arizona border) were considered. The latter would win the toss having better geological features, logistics/access and the ability to store more water in its reservoir. Construction began in 1931 and was completed two years ahead of schedule (in 1935). The sheer scale of the project left the nation – and the entire world, in awe of the accomplishment. It would provide employment for thousands and serve as a shining example of what men could achieve when they cooperate for a greater good. It cost the lives of over one-hundred workmen and, ironically, the first and last fatalities were members of the same family – a father and son who would die on the same day thirteen years apart. In the years to follow, additional dams (i.e. Parker, Imperial, Glen Canyon) and water diversion projects would further tame the once wild Colorado providing additional power generation, flood control and irrigation in a dry land. The Colorado River had been conquered by men and put to work for the service of mankind.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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