Theodore Roosevelt Dam: Arizona’s Living Legacy


[Music and bird calls] [Music] It was built stone by stone in the
punishing extremes of the American Southwest. It gathers the water that transformed a desert
into a lush place to live. Over the past century, Arizona’s Salt River Valley has grown from
a small farming community into the countries fifth largest metropolis. A venture that started
with a handful of farmers. [David Rosseau] What they found here was a good climate by and large, and good soil and then kind of an itinerant water situation. [Music] [Sandra Day O’Connor] And
for Arizona to become prosperous. To become a center of population and activity required
getting water to Central Arizona. [Music] [Narrator] Their vision was to provide abundant
water to an arid land. A structure of unprecedented size and scope. Unlike any reclamation project
ever attempted in the United States. [Music] [Narrator] Homesteaders began arriving in
the Valley in 1868 and within 20 years more than 100,000 acres were cultivated and producing
alfalfa, dates, citrus, figs and walnuts. Yet, every farmer worried about getting his far share
of water. [Bruce Hallin] So, some had a dependable supply and others didn’t. Many times there
was contention on whose water it was and whose water it wasn’t. [Narrator] At the turn of
the 20th century, Arizona farmers battled to control an erratic river. They faced blistering heat,
torrential floods and punishing drought. To prosper in such harsh conditions required
ingenuity and fortitude. Arizona settlers needed to create a reliable water supply.
But it wouldn’t be easy. They had to establish clear water rights. Consolidate a disjointed
canal system and raise the capital to build an enormous storage dam. Fortunately for the
residents of the Salt River Valley, budding ideals in Washington were about to dovetail
with the needs of a small farming community in the far off west. One of Theodore Roosevelt’s
first tasks as President was to sign the Newlands Reclamation Act into law. But before the government
would commit to financing and building the dam, the Reclamation Service needed to be
guaranteed repayment. In an unprecedented act the settlers set aside their differences and
every farmer, rancher and businessman pledged their personal land as collateral to the government. [John Hoopes] The willingness of these people
to put up their lands for security was an act of faith, so to speak, and was a burden for many. But a burden they were willing to take because they knew
it was the only way they could secure their future. [Narrator] To negotiate with the federal government
as one entity, landowners formed the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association and
elected Benjamin Fowler president. In 1903 the Association filed its articles of incorporation
written by Judge Kibbey. The articles of incorporation introduced electricity in the Association’s
mission. Laying the foundation to supply Valley residents with two essentials of modern life:
water and power. But the President, the fledgling reclamation service and the people of the
Salt River Valley likely had no idea what serious work it would be to build a dam that
could hold back the volatile Salt River. [Music] After meandering through the vast Tonto Basin,
the Salt River meets Tonto Creek and flows into a narrow gorge. Known as the crossing,
this tight slot with sturdy uplifted cliffs created an ideal location to impound a massive
amount of water. It would take 344,000 cubic yards of masonry stone and almost as many
barrels of cement to build the entire project, which included sluicing tunnel, power canal,
road way and a power house. [Randy Chandler] And so this was a really big project
that allowed the new Reclamation Service to really shine and do that engineering feat that was
really quite amazing at the time. [Narrator] In 1905 O’Rourke and Company, the contractor, pledged to have the bulk of the dams masonry work completed in 2 years but unforeseen
circumstances stalled progress and tripled construction time to 6 demanding years. No one had factored
in the possibility of millions of gallons of water tearing through the construction site. Months
of work swept away in hours. [Ileen Snoddy] Just when they get to almost to the same point they were again, mother nature strikes again and here comes another flood and washes their
work away again for a second time. We’re not talking does it wash away the dam and the work they
have done on the dam, it’s washing away all their equipment. [Narrator] Finally, after 3
years of painstaking preparation, the 6 ton cornerstone for the massive dam was laid
on September 20, 1906. In 1908, a writer from National Geographic described the scene: “Great
blocks of stand stone weighing 10 tons each are swung out on cranes and set in place.
When night comes, myriads of electric lights burst forth weirdly illuminating a busy army
of toilers in a shadowy canyon. It is a wondrous scene. Awesome and inspiring.” The need for
power to facilitate construction turned a dam initially designed for water storage into
a multi-purpose hydro-electric project. With the dam almost finished, disputes over water
rights in the Salt River Valley needed to be definitively settled. [Jon Kyl] Well, Judge
Edward Kent had to figure out exactly the specific amount of water that was pertinent
to every parcel of land in the Valley, about 236,000 acres, and he eventually got it all
prioritized so that everyone knew exactly how much quantity they had and what their
priority date was. Those water rights have been established and provided the foundation
for really the development of the Salt River Valley. [Narrator] The last stone was laid
on February 5, 1911. On March 18 Theodore Roosevelt himself made the dusty journey over
the Apache Trail to dedicate the dam that bears his name. A flagship for reclamation
in the West. [Ileen Snoddy] At 5:48 in the evening he pressed the button, water was released
from Roosevelt Dam and the dedication was complete. [Narrator] The paper in town reported
a mighty roar of water rushed through the canyon and the dedication of the greatest
storage dam and reservoir on earth was an accomplished fact. Finally, after some 40
years of need and 8 long years of battling the elements, the dam stood proudly between
the canyon walls. Two-hundred and eighty feet high, 184 feet thick at the bottom and 16
feet wide at the top. This elegant crescent of stone began to fulfill its promise – to
impound the waters that would bring life and opportunity to the Valley below. Arizona achieved
statehood in 1912. By 1915 the population of the Salt River Valley had tripled to nearly
90,000 people. [Sandra Day O’Connor] We have a seal for the state of Arizona and in the
middle of that seal is a drawing of Roosevelt Dam and some irrigated fields that emerge
from that. And that explains a lot about how Arizona developed. [Narrator] In 4 short years
Roosevelt Reservoir fills to capacity, over 20 miles long with 88 miles of shoreline,
it becomes the largest man-made body of water on the planet. The new reservoir provided
recreation as well as resources, with water for play and water for work, quite literally,
Arizona grows where water flows. From 1920 to 1946 the elevation drop between Roosevelt
Dam and the Valley is put to work. Five more dams are added to the Salt and Verde Rivers
to maximize water storage and generate more power for the growing cities below. The water
supply gave rise to diverse economies in Arizona, but it was power that helped pay for the entire
water system. By selling hydro-electricity, power becomes water’s paying partner. [Shelly
Dudley] The Association and Reclamation engineers knew that power could be sold, it could be
developed and the revenues used to help finance the lower cost of a reliable water supply.
[Narrator] By the mid-fifties the local chamber of commerce promotes the region as the Valley of the Sun,
known for its sunshine, swimming pools and citrus. And the two entities of the Salt River
Project – the Association and the District become known as SRP. By the early 1960s the
Valley’s year round population has grown to over 400,000 people and Arizonans once again
travel through the desert to celebrate Roosevelt Dam’s golden jubilee – commemorating 50 years
of service. Along with a new name for the dam, new industries moved to the Valley. Acres
that were once groves of pecans and grapefruit are transformed into homes. SRP’s boundaries
have remained consistent over the last century. Along with the Salt River’s propensity to
flood. On Valentine’s Day 1980 10 inches of rain hit the watershed and sent the season’s
entire snow pack rushing downstream. Ironically Congress had just passed the safety of dams
act, which mandated a review of the countries reclamation projects. Of the 9 scenarios submitted,
the Bureau of Reclamation ultimately adopted plan number 6, which among a suite of other
projects would re-enforce and raise Theodore Roosevelt Dam creating space for more water
storage and enough room for flood control. Four hundred fifty thousand cubic yards of
concrete and 849 miles of steel reinforcements raised Theodore Roosevelt Dam to a towering
357 feet. [Shelly Dudley] The old Roosevelt is still at the very heart of Theodore Roosevelt
Dam today and at the core, the very heart it’s still what it was. [Narrator] With
the implementation of plan 6, Theodore Roosevelt Reservoir swells to 128 miles of shoreline
and remains a crucial component to Central Arizona’s water supply. A supply augmented
by ground water and Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project. For over 100
years Salt River Project has worked with city, state and federal partners to create a dependable
water supply for millions of residents in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. [Bruce
Hallin] As the Salt River Project we’re really the manager or the steward of this resource.
It is really the end users, the landowners, it is their water supply. [Ed Pastor] It has
given Arizonans quality of life in terms of water and electricity but also a quality
of life in the economic development of their lives. [James LaBar] Theodore Roosevelt Dam’s
legacy is really about what it provides, and it provides certainty. It enables me not to
worry when I turn on my faucet when I want to brush my teeth or when I turn on the faucet
to give my daughter a bath. [David Rousseau] Our family has made a living in agriculture non-stop for 4 plus generations here. I daresay that would have been a lot harder without
the Salt River Project. So, I think there is certainly a respect and appreciation for
the critical role that it plays in our lives and I think in turn we’ve tried to honor that
a little bit by making sure that the Salt River project will hopefully be here another
100 years. [Narrator] Deep in the western frontier an epic engineering feat was accomplished
in the harshest terrain. The task demanded skill, courage and tenacity. What remains
is an elegant monument that quietly performs its job each moment of everyday. Standing
proudly for more than a century – Theodore Roosevelt Dam is a living legacy to the people
of the Southwest. [Music]

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