A Western Water Milestone

Unbeknownst to me, Thursday was the centennial of the first electricity flowing from the generators at Roosevelt Dam, arguably the first great dam of the modern era in the West.

Roosevelt Dam, picture courtesy Salt River Project

Roosevelt Dam, picture courtesy Salt River Project

Located 60 miles up the Salt River from Phoenix, it was the highest dam in the world when it was built, according to Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire, (a great history of water in the western United States, and especially of the federal government’s role).

Worster describes how the newly formed Reclamation Service (now the Bureau of Reclamation) was invited in to settle conflict over the limited water in the Salt River by building a big-ass dam. With, of course, a hefty subsidy from the federal government, and a willingness to ignore a federal restriction aimed at ensuring that Reclamation’s projects benefit the small farmer of Thomas Jefferson’s dream.

The dam was not completed in 1911, but the power plant was finished while the rest of the dam was still under construction, in order to supply electricity for the project.

The Salt River Project people have a nice writeup of the centennial.