Published: September 1, 2013
One hundred twelve bodies, 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete, 1,500,000 cubic yards of rock, combined to spawn a witches brew of brutal but elegant construction; to become a most revered monument to American ingenuity, perseverance, and pluck, first called, The Black Canyon Dam, next, The Boulder Dam, and finally, as we know it today, by its most politically correct title, The Hoover Dam.
The arguments and bickering surrounding the official naming process prompted Frank Romano to write the Las Vegas Review Journal with the suggestion to name the structure "hoogivza dam?"
It was construction grand opera beyond anyone's grasp, a one hundred degree cauldron of hellish work conditions for about 9,000 men, with constant threats of strikes, and IWW-Wobblies, too, now all glorified in both film and print, revered by engineers, and worshiped by water conservationists; all acted out on the stage of the worst, worldwide depression anyone had known.
The lists of those involved would overwhelm a pre- revolutionary Russian novel, overflowing any who's who list of American industrial ingenuity and distinction. Think of it; Henry J, Kaiser, Robert Le Tourneau, Frank Crowe, the Wattis brothers, Morrison-Knutson, the Pacific Company, Utah Construction, W.A. Bechtel, McDonald & Kahn, J.F. Shea, all to meld together as the six companies. It required our future best Chairman of the Federal Reserve to iron out a few personal quirks, as most folks in Utah listened, when Marriner Eccles spoke.
The scope of the project was so vast, so unique, and so unimaginable, that the builders had to invent the machines, rigs, parts, and systems to even begin the work called for in the $45 million contract they had already signed with the U.S. government.
President to be Hoover was the leader of the legal committee that wrote the river compact in 1922 that decided the allocation of all the water in the mighty Colorado River. Their final deliberations were held at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe, NM, where Hoover ratified the decision to allocate all western water on the prior appropriation basis versus eastern water systems based on riparian rights. The high population states in the lower, California basin were allocated a lion's share of the water. Over 30 million people, on the promise of available drinking water and plentiful agricultural irrigation water, migrated to sunny California. The question for future years is: Will this Faustian bargain prove to be beneficial to all of them in the long run?
The dam was designed to impound 28,537,000 acre feet of water and would spread out for 247 square miles. Today, engineers realize the site was selected where a narrow gorge would hold a high capacity dam. Hoover has two drawbacks; its location is in the highest possible temperature and evaporation zone in America, and its shallow wide lake encourages evaporation. A perfect spot for the dam was Colorado; imagine deep, frozen water.
What's done is done; but the future according to Scripps Institute is a fuzzy one, where the current drought may force Hoover Dam to go 'Dead Pool,' when the electricity will stop, and generators, not built to restart, will be disabled and unable to function.
We revisit the Art Deco Dam in the desert periodically; and are simultaneously moved by its majesty, but deeply saddened to see the continual downward spiral of the water marks on the banks of Lake Mead. When will 'too late,' be 'too late?'
Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.