Southeast of the glittering lights of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the midst of a desolate desert landscape, stands the Hoover Dam - one of the world's greatest engineering achievements for water resources management. Built by the United States Bureau of Reclamation in the 1930s for flood control, water storage and hydropower generation, the dam has been helping the American Southwest flourish for nearly 70 years. The monumental dam can hold nearly two years' flow of the Colorado River (9.2 trillion gallons) in its reservoir, and generates enough power each year to serve 1.3 million people.

The project was developed despite seemingly insurmountable engineering, administrative, financial, and political challenges. The work site's remote location required an entire infrastructure of power, transportation, and housing to be developed before work could begin. Materials and supplies were shipped in volumes never before provided for a civil works undertaking. And the unprecedented size of the structure led to improvements in almost every aspect of dam design and construction. Specialized machinery, unique cooling processes, and huge aggregate and steel fabricating plants were created for the project and often taxed the most innovative engineers.

Today, although other more modern dams and hydroelectric powerplants are taller or of greater capacity, Hoover is still a world-renowned structure. In addition to being a National Historic Landmark, it is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and one of America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. In the 1930's a large multi-purpose concrete dam like Hoover was a symbol of American ingenuity and modernity, and represented revival for a depression-affected economy. Demonstrating that man could beneficially alter and control his environment, the dam proved to be a catalyst for the growth of the American West.

Hoover Dam has had profound social impacts on the growth and prosperity of the American Southwest throughout its life. Less than a decade after the last bucket of concrete for the dam was poured, a complex water and power network was established, ready to support the rapid expansion of farms and factories. The dam's water and power supply also generated dramatic municipal growth in California, Arizona, and southern Nevada.

Today, Hoover Dam continues to help these states flourish with reliable supplies of power and water that are essential to life in the harsh climate of the American Southwest. Where only dust, sagebrush, and cacti once thrived, the desire has been transformed into glittering oases of burgeoning communities with lush lawns, rippling lakes, scenic golf courses, and cool swimming pools that can be enjoyed in the year-round recreational season. Acres of rich farmland and shady citrus orchards unroll for miles over the landscape, providing a vivid contrast to the stark, desolate desert pavement that displays its riches only when touched by sparse, life-giving rainstorms.

But the benefits provided by the dam extend to remote parts of this planet far beyond the arid regions of the American Southwest. The lessons learned during the design and construction of the dam helped ensure the success of large dam projects throughout the world - projects that have benefited thousands of people who may have never heard of Hoover.

Today, Hoover Dam stands as one of the most successful public works projects and one of the greatest engineering achievements of the modern era. Truly, Hoover Dam has brought - and continues to bring vitality to the American West.


American Public Works Association
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American Public Works Association
Washington Office

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Phone: (202) 408-9541
Fax: (202) 408-9542
apwa.dc@apwa.net