BOULDER DAM - THE CONQUEST OF THE FIGHTING COLORADO
From the Fireman's Fund Record, October 1930.
By WILLARD S. WOOD
UNCLE SAM is at war with the Colorado River. Hostilities started last month when down on the desert, just below Las Vegas, Nevada, the Secretary of the Interior, Ray Lyman Wilbur, drove the first spike of a branch railway that will run to the mouth of Black Canyon on the Colorado where the $165,000,000 Boulder Dam is to arise.
It is going to be real war before the Colorado submits and is penned behind the 700-foot wall of concrete at Black Canyon. For the Colorado is quite a fighter, and something of an excavator, as anyone will testify who has seen the Grand Canyon. It is a savage and sinister stream, long accustomed to having its own way, traversing a lonely land, and meeting a lonelier sea at the red tide flats at the head of the Gulf of California. Sharlott Hall, Arizona poet, put the story of the Colorado in four lines "Tireless, alone, unstaying, I went in my chosen road - /I trafficked with no man's burden - I bent me to no man's load, /On my tawny, sinuous shoulders no salt-gray ships swung in, /I washed no feet of cities, like a slave whipped out and in."
It is true that men tapped the stream, and reclaimed the desert with its waters, but they have done it and still do it at peril of the river - rather by its contemptuous sufferance than because it is tamed. For, when it pleased, the Colorado has rioted over the fertile Palo Verde Valley, and no one forgets the whim of the river in 1905 when it swept into the Imperial Valley to create the Salton Sea. It was finally forced back to its channel, but it took $2,000,000 to do the job. It irrigates two million acres now, but it is just as capable of destroying most of the two million as of irrigating them.
With its flood waters impounded safely behind Boulder Dam, the Colorado can supply water for six million acres instead of two, and what is equally important, it can never threaten them with destruction. It can develop at the same time no less than 550,000 constant horsepower. Those are the reasons why Uncle Sam is making war on the Colorado.
Cross the Colorado by rail or motor - it does not seem a very impressive stream. At many seasons of the year it is not. But in June, when the long days of summer sunshine begin to melt rapidly the snows of high Continental Divide in Colorado, then the Colorado begins to feel its power. It does not roar or bluster. The heavily weighted red water slips by almost silently, with only a gurgle or chuckle now and then. Watch it a while: there is a sense of menace about its silent strength that will convince you Uncle Sam has a man's size war upon his hands.
Building an City and a Railroad is Part of Boulder Dam Work
Uncle Sam knows it, too. His plans are carefully drawn. First, the railroad of 29 difficult miles. Next, a city for the workers. It will be an eight-year war, and the summer heat is terrific in that region. There is no room for a city in the narrow canyon. A town to house three or four thousand people - there will be perhaps 1000 workmen employed continuously on the dam - will rise on a mesa 1000 feet above the river. Elevators twice as high as the Woolworth Building will take them up and down each day.
Water must be pumped up from the river - a great refrigeration plant built - houses of a type to be comfortable as possible in that climate - all these things Uncle Sam has planned.
Before the work can start on the dam the river must be diverted. So, far back in the solid rock walls on either side, four great tunnels will be driven parallel with the river. Each tunnel will be fifty feet in diameter. Then an eighty-foot cofferdam will be built upstream above the dam site, and the entire flow of the river diverted through the tunnels.
The completed dam will be 700 feet from its foundation on the bedrock to its summit. The water behind it will be 550 feet deep. The gigantic artificial lake formed by the dam will contain 26,000 acre feet of water, enough to cover the state of Ohio one foot deep. It will be about 100 miles from the dam to the end of the lake behind it.
No more advantageous site for a great dam can be found anywhere along the river. At the level of the river, the rock walls of the canyon are only 350 feet apart. And so nearly perpendicular are the canyon sides that at the top of the dam they are only 880 feet apart.
Who pays for the $165,000,000 battle with the river? Why nobody but the conquered river itself. Old Man River, bound and chained, will pay reparations - reparations that in fifty years will discharge with interest the entire sum that Government expends. Contracts for the purchase of power are already in the hands of Government.
Directly below the dam will be located the gigantic power houses that day and night will produce 550,000 horsepower to industrialize the Southwest, and to deliver water to the City of Los Angeles.
An empire of four million acres of fertile farm land! Two million more acres to be made safe forever from the threat of the Colorado. No wonder Uncle Sam is marshalling his forces to war with Old Man River. No wonder the whole Southwest is ready to cheer him on. But Old Man River "He don't say nothin', he must know somethin'- He just keeps rollin' along."
[Fireman's Fund Archives: 4-1-3-4-41; 0408.]
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