Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century

Editor's Note: APWA developed the Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century Program to honor the ten most outstanding public works projects of the 20th Century that significantly affected and improved the quality of life in the United States or Canada. Our goal was to generate awareness of the positive contributions public works has made as well as to build appreciation for public works and its contributions to North America.

The APWA Reporter will highlight each of the outstanding projects through the October 2001 issue. This issue features the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam

Managing Agency: Bureau of Reclamation, United States Department of the Interior Nominated by: Lower Colorado Region, Bureau of Reclamation

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. Although other more modern dams and hydroelectric power plants 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 1930s, 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. 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 desert 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. 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.