We know water is a big issue in the Western United States. The story of Hoover Dam situated outside of Las Vegas is a remarkable tale of vision and compromise between seven of these states sharing the water from the Colorado River. We have driven over this engineering marvel many times, when we lived in Phoenix to Vegas to visit family, and have been amazed at the foresight and work it took to make it happen.
Hoover Dam was built to solve many problems. The Colorado River ran through Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Historically, before the dam was built, the river was very destructive, taking out homes and farms when it ran high. These seven states had to come together to figure out how to work out the design, find a construction company that could handle such a massive engineering feat and come to an agreement on how the water was distributed fairly.
Hoover Dam now irrigates two million acres of farmland in California and Arizona. It provides electricity and water to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson, contains floods, keeps water for droughts and is credited for allowing the Southwest to grow as it has. Hoover Dam, at sixty stories, is a symbol of our nation’s engineering prowess and the success of a huge multi-state project. The project started in the early 1920’s when America was beginning to understand its natural resources and use them to lift our standard of living.
The Hoover Dam is also an example of compromise. Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce and used his excellent negotiating skills between these states in 1922 to reach an agreement that became the Colorado River Compact. This alliance divided the seven states into regions, the Upper and Lower Basins, portioned out the water used annually by each state, and left the amounts to be governed by the states, so the federal government wasn’t managing it. Seven states. Can you imagine all of the meetings, negotiations and relationship-building this took?
Another display of working together was the company that formed to build Hoover Dam. One construction company couldn’t take on such a massive project. Six established contracting firms banded together as Six Companies Inc. of San Francisco, working together to capture the Hoover Dam contract. Think of the complexity of six companies combining together in order to be able to deliver on such a mammoth project! Their low bid of almost 50 million dollars, awarded in March 1931, was the largest construction contract awarded by the U.S. government, up to that point.
In addition to engineering a workable design in a canyon, the unparalleled amount of concrete and steel needed to gather and build the dam, Six Companies Inc. had to hire, feed, house, and organize their workers–five thousand men and their families, each month, for over five years, in the middle of a desert. All this was done and the dam was finished ahead of schedule. This only happened because many people worked together in the spirit of accommodation and adjustment.
Even naming the dam after Herbert Hoover highlights the complexity of relationships. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was Navy secretary at the time in 1920, wanted Herbert Hoover to run for President. Roosevelt admired Hoover for his humanitarian work after World War I, when he organized food shipments to help the countries most affected by the war. Herbert Hoover was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize because of this work. He became President in 1928, (rough, because the stock market crashed in 1929, starting the Great Depression.) In 1930 when the first spike was driven into the soil, the dam was named the Hoover Dam, reflecting Hoover’s contribution and ability to make the project happen through the entirety of the previous decade. Roosevelt ended up running against Herbert Hoover when Hoover went up for reelection, becoming a bitter rival and calling the dam, “Boulder Dam” during his presidential years, which were 1933 to 1945. At the dedication in 1935, Hoover was not invited to the ceremony and Roosevelt did not include Hoover’s contributions to the dam in his speech. Finally, in 1947, newly elected Harry Truman, with Congress backing him, renamed it Hoover Dam.2
The Hoover Dam changed a destructive, raging river into a positive, steady water source which allowed hydraulic power to help desert cities grow. Not only is the Hoover Dam an engineering marvel but a monument to vision, problem-solving, and relationships.
Relationships–complexity, pettiness, compromise, bitterness, forgiveness, joyfulness and vulnerability. We are surrounded by our relationships everyday. Relationships can be our greatest strength, or we can never figure it out. This is another Learning Packet where we need to consider what works and what doesn’t. We can work through the pain we feel when we feel disconnected and do the difficult task of forgiving others in order to heal.
Next post: Learning to Work On Our Weaknesses