Taming the Colorado River – Pre Hoover Dam

by | Oct 13, 2018 | Tourism, United States of America (USA)

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Colorado River

The Colorado River is a 1,450m /2,333k water course from Colorado Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. The river encompasses parts of seven U.S states and two Mexican states. Since as early as 600 A.D., people have relied on its water for domestic and commercial use.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, the river often flooded in the low-lying farmlands and communities from the spring melting snow. With this on-going problem, a solution was necessary to stabilise the water flow.

The purpose of a dam was to contain the flow of water, minimise the risk of flooding, provide power, water and irrigation for cities and towns and create recreational areas.

Before the river could be managed, a plan was devised to equally divide the water supply between the seven states. In 1922, representatives from each state and the federal government met for this purpose and created the Colorado River Compact.

Hoover Dam Construction Begins

Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and Nevada.

Hoover Dam Colorado
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Affiliated business men

The signed agreement divided the Colorado River basin into an upper and a lower half and gave half of the river’s annual estimated flow to each basin.

Mexico did not receive a guaranteed apportionment until the execution of the Mexican water treaty in 1944.

Hoover Dam Colorado
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Men waiting for work to commence

Hoover Dam Colorado
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In 1928, Congress passed the Boulder Canyon Project authorising construction of the Hoover Dam. Construction of the dam began in 1931 and was completed in 1935. The government contractor appointed ‘Six Companies Inc.’ who completed the project, two years ahead of schedule and well under the predicted budget of $48.9m.

Hoover Dam Colorado
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Working and Living in Harsh Times

The dam was built during the Great Depression, attracting thousands of unemployed men and their families, who swarmed into town and the surrounding areas. Many came with their life possessions and little or no money. 

The infamous community of “Ragtown” on the floor of Black Canyon next to the Colorado River was born. 

The rough-and-ready shantytown consisted of tents, cardboard boxes, corrugated iron and anything else that could serve as shelter against the scalding heat of summer and freezing nights of winter.

Ragtown provided very dismal living conditions. As men flooded the construction site to work or to find jobs, wives and children coped with the harsh comforts of Ragtown.

Also called “Hoovervilles,” they were named after Herbert Hoover, who was US President 1928-1932 during the time of the construction of the Hoover Dam. 

Hoover Dam Colorado
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It took 1 year to transform barren desert to a city of 5,000 people. Boulder City had the largest population of any Nevada city.

Schools, churches, post office, recreational facilities, and other amenities created a sense of community, absent in many company towns.

Those who were hired eventually moved to Boulder City, a community specifically built six miles from the work site to house its employees.

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Lake Meade Reservoir

Lake Mead is the name of the reservoir at Hoover Dam which receives the majority of its water from snow melt in the Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah Rocky Mountains. It is the largest (by volume) reservoir in the United States and provides water to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. The reservoir provides sustenance to nearly 20M people and irrigation to millions of acres of farmland in America and Mexico.
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Hoover dam generates over 4 billion kilowatt-hours a year, enough energy to serve 1.3M customers in California, Arizona, and Nevada. The dam can store up to 9.2 trillion gallons of water or two years annual flow. It is a National Historic landmark, a National history civil engineering landmark, and one of America’s seven modern civil engineering wonders.

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Building the Hoover Dam

The incredible construction story behind the Hoover Dam – a 1930s infrastructure project that now provides water and electricity to millions across the south western United States. Video Credit | The B1M – Construction Video Channel

Hoover Dam Today

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Tourist Attraction

Viewing this magnificent, manmade structure creates a respect for man’s accomplishments. You can’t help but wonder how these men managed to survive building the dam in such harsh and hot conditions. 

 

Today, the Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction and attracts nearly a million visitors annually to its location on the Colorado River just 30m /48k from Las Vegas. Driving Directions 

With Las Vegas only a short drive away, many visitors incorporate a Hoover Dam tour into their itinerary. For some Las Vegas travel tips check out my blog “Experience the City That Never Sleeps When Visiting Las Vegas“.

During the busy summer months it is best to make tour reservations. 

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Historic photography collection provided by Bureau of Reclamation and the Progressive Traveller.

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Hoover Dam Tours

 

Interesting Dam Facts

  • In total 21,000 men worked on the dam with an average of 3,500 – 5,000 per day. The average monthly payroll was $500,000.
  • The “official” number of fatalities involved in building Hoover Dam is 96. However, between 350-500 men also died either in hospital or after they were discharged but since they technically didn’t die on the construction site at the time, they were not included in the “official” number. Some men died from work related illnesses after the dam was completed from conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning. 

US Visa Requirements

Thinking about taking a vacation in the United States? Make sure you check out my US Visa Blog for all the necessary visa information. 

 

 

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