In our ever increasing demand for more and more energy, we are turning to alternative power sources ‘ solar, wind and hydroelectricity. The concept of using water to power our homes and businesses is not new. Through the 20th century, the USA invested a lot of money into dams in remote areas to control flooding, provide power and create reservoirs for storage. Unlike some countries, the USA has a lot of space in order to build so many. Some of the following in this list of famous American dams are world famous.
1. Oroville Dam
This is an earth-fill embankment dam and at over 770ft (230m) is the tallest dam structure in the US. Located in California, it impounds Lake Oroville and regulates water supply as well as providing hydroelectric power to the surrounding areas. It opened in 1968 and it is one of the key providers in the California State Water Project. It provides irrigation to the generally dry desert area in which it is located. Concerns over environmental impact came to a head when it was revealed that local salmon species were being prevented from migrating. This led to the formation of a fish hatchery in the area.
2. Hoover Dam
It might not be the tallest, but for various reasons it is the most famous dam in the country, if not the world. Once known as the Boulder Dam, it sits on the Colorado River between the states of Arizona and Nevada. Constructed as one of the early projects after the Great Depression, a projected had been touted since the beginning of the century to control regular flooding as well as provide hydroelectric power and irrigation. It is visited by approximately one million visitors every year, making it one of the country’s most popular industrial heritage sites.
3. Glen Canyon
This concrete arch type dam in northern Arizona was proposed in 1950, began in 1956 and completed in 1966. It experienced its first test in 1983 when freak weather led to flooding of the reservoir. There was some worry that it would collapse but it held out. The environmental impact has led to regular, controlled flooding in order to mimic the previous spring conditions of the area. The lake it holds back is a popular tourist site for boats and the flooding aids safety in the area. It is controversial because it is believed that the dam is too big and its effects are too severe
4. Shasta Dam
Shasta is a concrete gravity type spanning the Sacramento River in northern California. It is the ninth tallest dam in the country and is located in the state’s largest agricultural region so its primary reason for being is to control and prevent flooding of prime farmland. During World War II it was the primary power source for the factories manufacturing supplies for the war effort. There is a current debate whether to increase the height of the dam for more water storage. Controversially, land belonging to native tribes now sits beneath the surface of the lake.
5. Dworshak Dam
Located in the state of Idaho, proposals were controversial from the start due to concerns about the effects it would have on local salmon migrations and would affect areas used by elk during the winter. Construction began in 1966; it is over 3200 feet long and 717 feet high. Its early years were problematic and it soon developed cracks that required emergency repair work ‘ it couldn’t cope with the sudden influx of water. Following the completion of building, tourism to the area increased and it is now a popular water park area.
6. New Melones
One of the largest dams in California, it was built by the army and was dogged with controversy from the start. It was arguably the most fiercely opposed dam construction in the country ‘ attracting the attention of the Sierra Club. The protestors managed to get the state to impose a limit on the height of the water, but heavy snowfall in the 1980s put this way over the agreed limit, sending water levels up to the emergency spillway. Since then, few dams have been constructed in the state.
7. Mossyrock Dam
Located in Washington State, its primary purpose is hydroelectricity but also has a secondary use of flood control where necessary. As with some of the others, initial plans were challenged though this time it was from local fishers and game hunters concerned about the impact on wildlife and on their businesses. It was finally built in 1968 after three Supreme Court appeals and generated its first power for the county. It had both generators replaced between 2008 and 2010, increasing its capacity by 70mw.
8. Grand Coulee
The widest dam in the USA is in Washington State and is over a mile wide. Constructed between 1933 and 1942, the project was also subject to controversy. However, it wasn’t over whether a damn should be built but over what type of dam would best suit the area. Like several of the others in this list, it is also built over native tribal land and affects salmon migrations through the waterways. Tourism is encouraged through a visitor’s centre and a sound and light show on summer nights.
9. New Bullards Bar Dam
Another Californian dam, this one is primarily dedicated to irrigation and drinking water ‘ though it does also provide some electricity power. It was built in response to massive flooding in the area in 1955, the project being completed four years later and controlled flooding programmes take place every spring to regulate the water flow. It is the second highest dam in California and the fifth tallest in the country. The lake is 16 miles in length and is considered one of the best places for water skiing anywhere in the state.
10. Hungry Horse Dam
This final dam in the list is located in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, within the Flathead National Forest. Completed in 1953, it was primarily dedicated to water flow and though irrigation was cited, no facilities were built and today. Not much water management is required so today it is used primarily for hydroelectric power supply to the surrounding areas.
As we look more toward a green world and possibly having reached peak oil, we are going to need a lot more power and we are going to need it as clean as can be to minimise our carbon footprints. The technology already exists in the hydroelectricity provided by the world’s dams. What other technological advances exist in order to take this 20th century technology into the next century and beyond?
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