Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Nevada's Most Historic Dams
Bishop Creek Dam
Hoover Dam is easily Nevada’s most famous dam. But did you know there are others that are equally historic? In honor of Hoover Dam’s 75th birthday this year, I’d like to take a look at some of the Silver State’s most noteworthy and historic dams.
Bishop Creek Dam—Originally called the Metropolis Dam, this structure was built in 1912 to provide water to the farming community of Metropolis, 20 miles north of Wells. But downstream farmers won a lawsuit contesting the dam and it has never been used to its full potential. Fill in the dam included brick rubble from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. More recently, the state has begun work to replace this decaying concrete dam with an earth fill dam so this historic wedge will soon be gone.
Wild Horse Dam—There are actually two Wild Horse dams. The first one was built in 1937 to store water to irrigate hay meadows on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, 60 miles north of Elko. Poor construction rendered the dam unsafe, so in 1969, a second, larger dam was built upstream from the original. The first dam still stands beneath the waters of Wild Horse Reservoir.
Angel Lake—As dams go, the one creating Angel Lake, 12 miles south of Wells, is small, measuring a mere 15-feet across. Built in the 1880s, this dirt-and-rock barrier is one of the state’s oldest dams and creates a picturesque alpine lake.
Cave Lake—The earthen dam creating this scenic mountain lake is so low profile that most visitors don’t realize Cave Lake is a manmade reservoir. Nestled in Eastern Nevada’s Schell Creek Range, Cave Lake was created by a rancher in the 1920s and enlarged in 1961 by the Nevada Division of State Parks. A 27-pound, five-ounce brown trout, a state record, was caught here in 1984.
Davis Dam—With its blocky, angular design, this dirt-fill and concrete slab looks the way a dam ought to look. Located on the Colorado River, 67 miles downstream from Hoover Dam and a mile north of Laughlin, Davis Dam was constructed from 1946 to 1953 and created Lake Mohave.
Lahontan Dam—This impressive concrete, earth, and rock dam has distinctive design touches, such as an elegant archway and suspension bridge leading to an outlet tower. Constructed in 1911-15 as part of the Newlands Project, the dam captures water from the Truckee and Carson rivers, and then feeds it to nearby Fallon area farms.
Marlette Dam—Part of the oldest water system in Nevada, this dam was constructed on Marlette Lake in the 1860s by the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company. In 1877, a series of flumes and pipelines were built to carry Marlette’s water to Virginia City. The system was one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century, transporting water from high in the Sierra Nevada range, down 2,700 feet to Washoe Valley, across the valley, and back up 1,400 feet to Virginia City.
Tahoe City Dam—Sitting at the north end of Lake Tahoe, this dam is the spigot that pours water into the Truckee River, which provides nearly all the water for Northwestern Nevada. Built from 1909-1913, this 14-foot concrete sluiceway raised the level of Lake Tahoe by more than six feet—which translates into 732,000 acre feet of water—despite vehement opposition from shoreline property owners.
Derby Diversion Dam—This concrete dam is one of Western Nevada’s most controversial barriers. As part of the Newlands Project, it diverts Truckee River water to Lahontan Reservoir. The diversion helped turn Fallon into an agricultural center but also sparked nearly a century of legal squabbling over water rights. Derby is located 20 miles east of Reno.