Hoover Dam, also sometimes known as Boulder Dam, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada. When completed in 1935, it was both the world's largest electric-power generating station and the world's largest concrete structure. It was surpassed in both these respects by the Grand Coulee Dam in 1945. It is currently the world's 35th-largest hydroelectric generating station.
This dam, located 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, is named after Herbert Hoover, who played an instrumental role in its construction, first as the Secretary of Commerce and then later as the President of the United States. Construction began in 1931 and was completed in 1935, more than two years ahead of schedule. The dam and the power plant are operated by the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, Hoover Dam was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. Lake Mead is the reservoir created behind the dam, named after Elwood Mead, who oversaw the construction of the dam.
The first attempt to gain Congressional approval for construction of Boulder Dam came in 1922 with the introduction of two bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bills were introduced by Congressman Phil D. Swing and Senator Hiram W. Johnson and were known as the Swing-Johnson bills. The bills failed to come up for a vote and were subsequently reintroduced several times. In December 1928, both the House and the Senate finally approved the bill and sent it to the President for approval. On December 21, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill approving the Boulder Canyon Project. The initial appropriation for construction was made in July 1930, by which time Herbert Hoover had become President.
Early plans called for the dam to be built in Boulder Canyon, so the project was known as the Boulder Canyon Project. The dam site was eventually moved downstream eight miles to Black Canyon, but the project name remained the same.
During the concrete-pouring and curing portion of construction, it was necessary to circulate refrigerated water through tubes in the concrete. This was to remove the heat generated by the chemical reactions that solidify the concrete, since the setting and curing of the concrete was calculated to take about 125 years. Six Companies, Inc., did much of this work, but it discovered that such a large refrigeration project was beyond its expertise. Hence, the Union Carbide Corporation was contracted to assist with the refrigeration needs.
Six Companies, Inc. was contracted to build a new town called Boulder City for workers, but the construction schedule for the dam was accelerated in order to create more jobs in response to the onset of the Great Depression, and the town was not ready when the first dam workers arrived at the site in early 1931. During the first summer of construction, workers and their families were housed in temporary camps like Ragtown while work on the town progressed. Discontent with Ragtown and dangerous working conditions at the dam site led to a strike on August 8, 1931. Six Companies responded by sending in strike-breakers with guns and clubs, and the strike was soon quelled. But the discontent prompted the authorities to speed up the construction of Boulder City, and by the spring of 1932 Ragtown had been deserted. Gambling, drinking alcohol, and prostitution were not permitted in Boulder City during the period of construction. To this day Boulder City is the only location in Nevada not to allow gambling, and the sale of alcohol was illegal until 1969.
While working in the tunnels, many workers suffered from the carbon monoxide generated by the machinery there. The contractors claimed that the sickness was pneumonia and was not their responsibility. Some of the workers sickened and died because of the so-called "pneumonia". Most are uncounted on the official death list. In a court case, one of the claimants (Ed Kraus) said that the poisoning had resulted in his impotence. This was disproved after a prostitute in the pay of the contractors gave evidence. The jury failed to reach a verdict as a result, and the claim was lost.
To protect the construction site from flooding, two cofferdams were constructed. Construction of the upper cofferdam began in September 1932, even though the river had not yet been diverted. A temporary horseshoe-shaped dike protected the cofferdam on the Nevada side of the river. After the Arizona tunnels were completed, and the river diverted, the work was completed much faster. Once the coffer dams were in place and the construction site dewatered, excavation for the dam foundation began. For the dam to rest on solid rock, it was necessary to remove all the riverbed's accumulated erosion soils and other loose materials until sound bedrock was reached. Work on the foundation excavations was completed in June 1933. During excavations for the foundation, approximately 1,500,000 yd³ (1,150,000 m³) of material was removed. Since the dam would be a gravity-arch type, the side-walls of the canyon would also bear the force of the impounded lake. Therefore the side-walls were excavated too, to reach virgin (un-weathered) rock which had not experienced the weathering of centuries of water seepage, wintertime freeze cracking, and the heating/cooling cycles of the Arizona/Nevada desert.
To divert the river's flow around the construction site, four diversion tunnels were driven through the canyon walls, two on the Nevada side and two on the Arizona side. These tunnels were 73 feet in diameter. Their combined length was nearly 16,000 feet (4877 meters, more than three miles). Tunneling began at the lower portals of the Nevada tunnels in May 1931. Shortly afterwards, work began on two similar tunnels in the Arizona canyon wall. In March 1932, work began on lining the tunnels with concrete. First the base or "invert" was poured. Gantry cranes, running on rails through the entire length of each tunnel were used to place the concrete. The sidewalls were poured next. Movable sections of steel forms were used for the sidewalls. Finally, using pneumatic guns, the overheads were filled in. The concrete lining is three feet (91.5 centimeters) thick, reducing the finished tunnel diameter to 50 feet (15.25 m).
Following the completion of the dam, the entrances to the two outer diversion tunnels were sealed at the opening and half way through the tunnels with large concrete plugs. The downstream halves of the tunnels following the inner plugs are now the main bodies of the spillway tunnels. The spillways can be seen directly above the outer diversion tunnels. They drop sharply from their entrance point and merge directly into the old diversion tunnels.
The two inner diversion tunnels have two concrete plugs in them. One is roughly half way along their length, and the other is around 75% of the way along their length. The section sandwiched between two concrete plugs is used as part of the tunnel which water travels along, to journey from the outermost intake towers and the generators. The two innermost intake towers have separate tunnels.
The large spillway tunnels have only been used three times in the history of the dam. The first one was during the second half of 1941 for testing. The second one was for about six weeks during the summer of 1983, when record precipitation and snow-melt in the Colorado River basin drained into Lake Mead, and the third one in 1999, again with heavy precipitation that filled Lake Mead.
Before construction began on the dam itself it was necessary to remove loose rock from the canyon walls. The design of the dam is the arch and gravity type. The load of the water in the storage reservoir is resisted by both the gravity/mass of the dam, and by the arch of the dam pressing against and into the side walls of Black Canyon. Therefore, the two vertical foundations for each of the arch walls (the Nevada side and Arizona side) had to be founded on sound "virgin" rock; free of cracks and the weathering that the surface rock of the canyon walls had from thousands of years of weathering and exposure.
The men who removed this rock were called "high-scalers." While suspended from the top of the canyon with ropes high-scalers climbed down the canyon walls and removed the loose rock with jackhammers and dynamite.
The first concrete was placed into the dam on June 6, 1933. Since no structure of the magnitude of the Hoover Dam had been constructed, many of the procedures used in construction of the dam were untried. Since concrete heats up and contracts as it cures, uneven cooling and contraction of the concrete posed a serious problem. The Bureau of Reclamation engineers calculated that if the dam were built in a single continuous pour, the concrete would have taken 125 years to cool to ambient temperature. The resulting stresses would have caused the dam to crack and crumble. To solve this problem the dam was built in a series of interlocking trapezoidal columns. Each pour was no more than six inches deep. Because of this depth it is extremely unlikely that construction workers were accidentally buried alive in the concrete, contrary to popular folklore. To further cool the concrete each form contained cooling coils of 1 inch (25.4 mm) thin-walled steel pipe. River water was circulated through these pipes to help dissipate the heat from the curing concrete. After this, chilled water from a refrigeration plant on the lower cofferdam was circulated through the coils to further cool the concrete. After each layer had sufficiently cooled the cooling coils were cut off and pressure grouted by pneumatic grout guns. The concrete is still curing and gaining in strength as time goes on.
Following an uprating project from 1986 to 1993, the total gross power rating for the plant, including two 2.4 megawatt generators that power the plant's operations, is about 2080 megawatts.
Excavation for the powerhouse was carried out simultaneously with the excavation for the dam foundation and abutments. Excavation for the U-shaped structure located at the downstream toe of the dam was completed in late 1933 with the first concrete placed in November 1933.
Generators at the Dam's Hoover Powerplant began transmission of electricity from the Colorado River to Los Angeles, California 266 miles (428 km) away on October 26, 1936. Additional generating units were added through 1961.
Water flowing from Lake Mead through the gradually-narrowing penstocks to the powerhouse reaches a speed of about 85 miles per hour (137 km/h) by the time it reaches the turbines. The entire flow of the Colorado River passes through the turbines. The spillways are rarely used.
Hydroelectric power plants have the ability to vary the amount of power generated, depending on the demand. Steam turbine power plants are not as easily "throttled" because of the amount of thermodynamic inertia contained in their systems.
The initial plans for the finished facade of both the dam and the power plant consisted of a simple, unadorned wall of concrete topped with a Gothic-inspired balustrade and a powerhouse that looked like little more than an industrial warehouse. This initial design was criticized by many as being too plain and unremarkable for a project of such immense scale, so Los Angeles-based architect Gordon B. Kaufmann was brought in to redesign the exteriors. Kaufmann greatly streamlined the buildings, and applied an elegant Art Deco style to the entire project, with sculptured turrets rising seamlessly from the dam face and clock faces on the intake towers set for Nevada and Arizona time, in the Pacific and Mountain time zones respectively (although because Arizona does not observe daylight saving time, the two clocks show the same time throughout much of the year).
Hoover Dam serves as the Colorado River crossing for the highway U.S. Route 93. The just two-lane section of road approaching the dam is narrow, has several dangerous hairpin turns, and is subject to rock slides. There are just two lanes of traffic across the top of the dam, too.
To provide much more highway capacity, and better safety, the new Hoover Dam Bypass is scheduled to be completed in the year 2010 and it will divert the U.S.-93 traffic 1,500 feet downstream from the dam. The bypass will include a composite steel and concrete arch bridge, tentatively named the "Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge".
Additionally, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks there are significant security concerns. Because of the attack, the Hoover Dam Bypass project was expedited. Traffic across Hoover Dam is presently restricted. Some types of vehicles are inspected prior to crossing the dam while semi-trailer trucks, buses carrying luggage, and enclosed-box trucks over 40 feet long are not allowed on the bridge at all. That traffic is diverted south to a Colorado River bridge close to Laughlin, Nevada.
The Bureau of Reclamation reports that the energy generated is allocated as follows:
|Metropolitan Water District of Southern California||28.5393%|
|State of Nevada||23.3706%|
|State of Arizona||18.9527%|
|Los Angeles, California||15.4229%|
|Southern California Edison Company||5.5377%|
|Boulder City, Nevada||1.7672%|
The dam, originally planned for a location in Boulder Canyon, was relocated to Black Canyon for better impoundment, but was still known as the Boulder Dam project. Work on the project started on July 7, 1930. At the official beginning of the project on September 17, 1930, President Hoover's Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur, announced that the new dam on the Colorado River would be named Hoover Dam to honor the then President of the United States. Wilbur followed a standing tradition of naming important dams after the President who was in office when they were constructed, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, the Wilson Dam, and the Coolidge Dam. Furthermore, Hoover was already campaigning for re-election in the face of the Depression and he sought credit for creating jobs. A Congressional Act of February 14, 1931, made the name "Hoover Dam" official.
However, in 1932, Herbert Hoover lost his bid for reelection to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his memoirs, Hoover wrote of stopping to inspect progress on the dam, by night, on November 12, 1932, on his way back to Washington from Palo Alto after his defeat. He commented, "It does give me extraordinary pleasure to see the great dream I have so long held taking form in actual reality of stone and cement. It is now ten years since I became chairman of the Colorado River Commission.... This dam is the greatest engineering work of its character ever attempted by the hand of man." He went on to list its purposes, concluding, "I hope to be present at its final completion as a bystander. Even so I shall feel a special personal satisfaction." (Hoover adds a footnote to this, see below.)
When Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, he brought Harold Ickes with him to replace Ray Lyman Wilbur as Secretary of the Interior. Ickes wasted no time removing Hoover’s name from the Boulder Canyon Project. On May 8, 1933, Ickes issued a memorandum to the Bureau of Reclamation, which was in charge of the dam, stating, "I have your reference to the text for the pamphlet descriptive of the Boulder Canyon Project for use at the Century of Progress Exposition. I would be glad if you will refer to the dam as 'Boulder Dam' in this pamphlet as well as in correspondence and other references to the dam as you may have occasion to make in the future."
This did not happen immediately, but over the following several years all references to "Hoover" Dam in official sources, as well as tourist and other promotional materials, vanished in favor of "Boulder" Dam.
Roosevelt died in 1945 and Harold Ickes retired in 1946. On March 4, 1947 California Republican Congressman Jack Anderson submitted House Resolution 140 to "restore" the name Hoover Dam. Anderson’s resolution passed the House on March 6; a companion resolution passed the Senate on April 23, and on April 30, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 43 which read: "Resolved … that the name of Hoover Dam is hereby restored to the dam on the Colorado River in Black Canyon constructed under the authority of the Boulder Canyon Project Act … . Any law, regulation, document, or record of the United States in which such dam is designated or referred to under the name of Boulder Dam shall be held to refer to such dam under and by the name of Hoover Dam."
Hoover writes this footnote to his comments of November 12, 1932: "Responding to a suggestion from Hiram Johnson, and with his characteristic attitude, Secretary Ickes changed the name of the dam. The hint in the above address that I should like to be present did not secure me an invitation to the dedication ceremonies conducted by President Roosevelt. I have never regarded the name as important. The important thing is a gigantic engineering accomplishment that will bring happiness to millions of people. In 1947, the Congress, by practically unanimous action, restored the name Hoover Dam — to Mr. Ickes intense indignation."
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