On Hoover Dam

Michael Giberson

From Michael Hiltzik, in the Los Angeles Times,  “The false promise of Hoover Dam.” Hiltzik provides a good summary of the political promises and pretenses that allowed the dam to be built in the first place.  He then examines the competing demands for the current and future use of the dam.  I liked this bit:

This year, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dedication of “the greatest dam in the world” on September 30, 1935, we should also recognize the dam’s equivocal legacy to the West, and to the nation.

Connoisseurs of irony will note that on that day, under a blistering sun and before 10,000 spectators and 20 million radio listeners, FDR claimed as a symbol of the New Deal a public work conceived, designed and launched by his Republican predecessors.

Indeed, during the 1932 presidential campaign, candidate Roosevelt had savagely attacked Hoover, his GOP opponent, for excessive deficit spending on projects like the dam. Once ensconced in the White House, however, he quickly came to appreciate the totemic power of great public works and their effectiveness at representing the benefits that could be bestowed on the citizens by a visionary administration.

Near the end of the article Hiltzik concludes:

The truth is that conflict on the [Colorado] river will never be stilled, because there will always be more demand for the water than there is water.

Excess demand? The price must be too low.  Sounds like a job for the Aguanomist!

3 thoughts on “On Hoover Dam

  1. Markets establish prices for goods and services which ultimately “clear” the market.

    Governments tend to establish prices which make markets dis-functional, or render them functionally non-existent.

    Governments tend to believe that makes them better than markets.

    Go figure!

  2. I’ll take the bait (so low hanging!)

    Water from the CR costs NOTHING to those who have contracts with BurRec.* So demand probably exceeds supply… Would BurRec be able to sell water to highest bidder and clear the market? Not if politicians with sweet deals had any say. But my suggestion, all along, has been to market that water — clear the market — and give the proceeds to those who have enjoyed the 75-year gift, for a few more years…

    *MWDSC pays $0.25/af — 25 cents — for its water. I’m willing to pay $0.50, but MWDSC is not, apparently, interested in doubling their money 🙂

  3. Interesting article, and his book might be a good read. I’ll take a look at that.

    The author doesn’t mention that 500-yr historical flow data on the Colorado (estimated from tree-ring data and such) shows the period in the early 20th century to have been an unusually high-flow period. The dam was conceived, built, and initially operated during this period, perhaps exceeding expectations for several years. A downward trend began in the late 30s. A Normal flow based on that history is somewhat lower than was previously thought.

    Link to a report/book on the subject: “Colorado River Basin Water Management:
    Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability”


    And, wow, the whole book is available for free download.

    Title line of press release from 2007:

    Tree-Ring Data Reveal Greater Variations in Colorado River
    Flows Than Previously Assumed; Extended Droughts Are Recurrent,
    May Become More Severe Because of Higher Temps

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