The Cold War “dam gap”

Circa 1958, a unique argument in favor of the development of the next wave of dams in the Colorado River Basin. At the time, the Eisenhower administration had failed to include any “new starts” for U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects in its Fiscal Year 1959 budget. Sen. James E. Murray, D-Montana, was alarmed:

Your attention is called to the very real threat by Soviet Russia in outstripping the United States in water resources and hydroelectric power development…. We propose to delve into this subject at public hearings for the purpose of alerting the American people to the threat to the economic stability of this country.

Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Jan. 23, 1958

update: I found that last little bit while reading Congressional testimony about water and power project development in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Tugging on the thread, I found a remarkable Congressional report written in 1957 (sorry, only found it in the walled-off web, can’t find a public copy) purporting to be a thorough inquiry into this incredibly important question. It concluded that we were still ahead of the commies, but warned against complacency:

While the United States is still the leading producer of hydroelectric power and is still the leading industrial nation of the world and Soviet Russia has not yet outstripped the United States, its rate of progress percentagewise is a warning, against the background of the economic cold war, that this country dare not adopt a complacent attitude that would allow us to drift under a false assumption of unassailable superiority.

Relationships of river and related water resource development programs of U.S., Soviet Russia, and Red China, 12063 S.rp.1926, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Senate; Committee on Public Works, July 23, 1958




  1. Good stuff.

    Now what we really need today is an urgent report about how can-do American has fallen so far behind China in developing high-speed rail — but we don’t fear the Chinese the way we did the Soviets. Nor, happily, do we have reason to.

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