How Thick Is Hoover Dam?
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Originally known as “Boulder Dam,” Hoover Dam was one of the most ambitious projects of the 1930s. Ever since the first bucket of concrete was poured, the American Southwest has never been the same. It’s a massive construction, but how thick is the Hoover Dam and why did they build it in the first place?
When was the Hoover Dam built?
People in the southwestern US have been trying to tame and control the Colorado River since the beginning of the 20th century. After many unsuccessful attempts, in 1922 the federal government introduced plans to build a massive dam in southern Nevada near the Arizona border. In 1928 the project was officially approved and construction lasted from 1931 to 1936. As it neared completion, it was dedicated in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was named in honor of President Herbert Hoover, who played an important role in getting the project off the ground. Hoover Dam cost $49 million to build, which would be about $760 million today. In addition, the power plant and generators cost another $71 million. Hoover Dam paid back the cost of its own construction by 1987 by selling the electricity it generated, so in the long run, building the dam was cost effective. . . free.
One reason for the construction of the Hoover Dam was to prevent floods from the Colorado River from affecting Arizona and California.
How many people died building the Hoover Dam?
When the dam was originally built, it took the creation of an entire new town, the city that still stands, Boulder Nevada, just to provide for the workers. As it was built during the Great Depression, many people were happy about the opportunity to have work, and the project eventually employed about 21,000 men. With such an ambitious project, injuries were expected, but despite the precautions taken, including the building of a brand new hospital nearby and specialized “high scalers” patrolling the cliff to remove loose rocks, 96 men died due to work-related accidents during the time it was completed. Contrary to popular myth, none of these people were buried in the concrete of the dam. Today, the dam is maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation, which employs approximately 5,000 people.
How big is the Hoover Dam?
Upon its completion in 1936, it was the largest dam in the world, and although larger dams have been made since then, it is still a monster standing strong at 726 feet tall, making it the 2nd tallest dam in the United States. At its base, the Hoover Dam measures a width of 660 feet thick, 105 feet wider than the height of the Washington Monument! Even the thinnest part at the top of the dam extends no less than 45 feet, or the width of a four-lane highway. In total, it took 3.3 million cubic meters of concrete to build.
Part of the engineering of the dam is that it is built as an arch that bends in the massive weight of the water behind it. This shape transfers the weight of the water to the canyon walls so that the dam itself does not bear its full force. It is the same architectural principle that the Romans used in their construction of bridges, aqueducts and public buildings and that European builders used to use flying buttresses to support the walls of Gothic cathedrals. The engineering and materials used in Hoover Dam were designed to last for 2,000 years; however, many engineers say that it could actually last up to 10,000 years and, if humans went extinct, it could very well be the last vestige of our civilization to last that long.
The curved shape of Hoover Dam works on the same principle as Roman arches or Gothic flying buttresses – it carries the force of the water behind it to the sides and transfers it to the earth on either side.
How much electricity does the dam provide?
About 20,000 liters of water flow through the dam per second. All that rushing water flows past blades spinning at 180 rpm, which drive 17 turbines, each weighing about 700 tons. It creates a spinning magnetic field that produces a staggering amount of electricity: 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year for use in Nevada, Arizona and California. This is enough to serve 1.3 million people. Where do those people live? We’re glad you asked. Here is a list of the places that Hoover Dam electricity helps power:
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – 28.5% of total electric output Nevada – 23.4% Arizona – 19% Los Angeles, California – 15.4% Southern California Edison Co. – 5.5% Boulder City, NV – 1.8% Glendale, CA – 1.6% Pasadena, CA – 1.4%Anaheim, CA – 1.1%Riverside, CA – 0.9%Vernon, CA – 0.6%Burbank, CA – 0.6%Azusa, CA – 0.1%Colton, CA – 0.09%Clean, renewable Hoover Dam electricity helps keep the lights on all night, every night in Las Vegas.
How much water does Hoover Dam and Lake Mead offer?
Creating electricity is not Hoover Dam’s only purpose. It also stores much-needed water for the driest region of the country, supplying farms and communities up to 300 miles away. So it’s no surprise that Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the dam, is the largest reservoir in the country. At maximum capacity, Lake Mead is 112 miles long, 532 feet at its greatest depth, covers an area of 247.1 square miles, and can hold 9.3 trillion gallons of water. That’s about as much water as would normally flow into the Colorado River in two years. About 70% of the water of Lake Meade is used for agriculture. Due to a drought lasting until the year 2000, the water is about 30% lower than normal, revealing all sorts of mysterious secrets, including sunken boats and several dead bodies, some of which were likely the victims of foul play.
The so-called “bath ring” around Lake Mead shows just how far the water level has dropped in recent drought years.
The ecological impact of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
Despite the benefits Hoover Dam and Lake Mead brought to regional development, if we tried to build them today, there’s a good chance they would never pass today’s worker safety standards and environmental impact assessments. The damming of the Colorado River changed the natural flow and flood cycles of the river. Plants and animals adapted to the flooding of the river were disrupted, and other ecosystems were permanently drowned by the filling of Lake Mead. It severely damaged the Colorado River delta region where the river flows into the Gulf of California in Mexico. Much damage was done especially in the first 6 years after the dam was built, when Lake Mead was still full, as almost no water reached the delta area. The population of native fish species has been reduced and non-native species have been introduced into the lake. Four species of fish native to the Colorado River, the Bonytail Chub, Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Cub, and Razorback sucker, are now listed as endangered.
Hoover Dam provides flood control for the Colorado River, but in the process has disrupted species adapted to its flood cycles.
What can you do at Hoover Dam and Lake Mead?
An iconic landmark like Hoover Dam, with so much history and so many natural wonders around, offers many things to do. The dam attracts about 1,000,000 visitors annually. You can take a tour and see original tunnels and beautiful art-deco art and architecture. You will enjoy breathtaking views from the dam’s viewing platform and can walk across the world’s highest concrete arch bridge that towers above the dam. You’ll no doubt find some memorable photo ops, just BE SAFE posing for those dramatic selfies!
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established around the dam and reservoir to preserve and maintain the region’s nature and natural recreational potential. Camping and hiking are common activities you can do throughout the protected area, and if you’re more of a sportsman, you can get an Arizona or Nevada hunting or fishing license. But if nature isn’t your thing, you can check out the distinctly man-made city of Las Vegas glittering in the desert just an hour’s drive away. We will describe what you can do in Vegas, but as they say, what happens there, stays there. As you figure that one out, just remember, none of it would probably be possible without the extraordinary Hoover Dam.