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History - Planning and Agreements

The Hoover Dam was planned, designed and built decades before the environmental movement 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The control of the naturally unpredictable Colorado River was looked upon as positive step towards protecting America’s resources, and putting them to their most productive use. Once built, the dam would provide electricity and water to three states, Arizona, California and Nevada, a significant long-term benefit to the region. An additional proposed benefit of the series of dams would be to help keep the silt and sediment out of the Colorado River.  More importantly for the times, Six Companies, Inc., the dam’s construction contractor, directly employed more than five thousand men.  This came at a time when millions were out of work.  The planning for the dam initiated seven years prior to the stock market crash of October 1929, and actual construction of the dam started on April 20, 1931.

The planning for the Hoover Dam was initiated in 1922, when a commission was formed with representatives from each of seven Basin states and one representative from the Federal Government. The project was named the Boulder Dam Project, named after Boulder Canyon, which was the location originally selected to be the location for the dam.  The dam was ultimately built eight miles down stream in Black Canyon, yet the project continued on under the Boulder Dam Project name.

The federal representative to the Boulder Dam Project was Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover.  In January 1922, then Secretary Hoover met with the state Governors of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming to work out an equitable arrangement for apportioning the waters of the Colorado River for their states' use. The resulting Colorado River Compact, signed on November 24, 1922, split the river basin into upper and lower halves with the states within each region deciding how the water would be divided. This agreement, known as the Colorado River Compact or Hoover Compromise, paved the way for the Boulder Dam Project.

Early in his public career Hoover gained widespread recognition as a conservationist. His years of service, both as a public official and a private citizen, Hoover reflected his lifelong passion for the outdoors and the preservation of this nation's natural resources. In 1922, barely a year into his tenure as Warren G. Harding's Secretary of Commerce, Hoover had already stirred environmental enthusiasm for harnessing rivers for flood control, increasing the production of fisheries, and cleaning up rivers and harbors. He spoke out before Congress in support of these and related natural resources protection issues. Hoover reiterated his support for vigorous action to safeguard the environment in a 1924 telegram "I cannot state too strongly that pollution of waters under Federal control is destroying not only our fisheries, but is also destroying our beaches and endangering our harbors

The first attempt to gain Congressional approval for construction of Boulder Dam came in 1922 with the introduction of two bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bills were introduced by Congressman Phil D. Swing and Senator Hiram W. Johnson and were known as the Swing-Johnson bills. The bills failed to come up for a vote and were subsequently reintroduced several times. In December 1928, both the House and the Senate finally approved the bill and sent it to the President for approval. On December 21, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill approving the Boulder Canyon Project. The initial appropriation for construction was made in July 1930, by which time Herbert Hoover had become President.

Under the Hoover Compromise, each Basin would receive 7.5 million acre feet (“maf”) per year on average, which was calculated over a ten year period.  And each Basin would then be left to decide between its member states how to further split the water. Additionally, the Lower Basin states were allotted an extra 1 maf. Hoover recognized the efforts of the Arizona representative, W. S. Norviel, in obtaining the “extra” one million acre feet of water. After 22 years of negotiation and litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court allocated the Lower Basin’s 7.5 maf to the three states with California receiving 4.4 maf, Arizona 2.8 maf and Nevada 300,000 acre feet (“af”)). The Upper Basin states proved more amendable to a cooperative settlement. (By reaching accord among themselves they avoided the more intrusive federal role that their quarrelsome southern states brought upon themselves.) A contract was signed in 1948 assigning 51.75 percent to Colorado, 23 percent to Utah, 14 percent to Wyoming and 11.25 percent to New Mexico.

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