If you’re a fan of engineering feats, it probably doesn’t surprise you that some great American dams don’t just restrict the flow of water, but also act as major tourist attractions. Just think of the Hoover Dam, for example, which draws an estimated 1 million visitors annually.
But why are we so fascinated by dams? For some, it’s their sheer industrial prowess — they have the power to manipulate the world’s waters and generate vital electricity and drinking water. For others, it’s the history of dams and how even primitive societies implemented them that makes the study such a worthwhile one. No matter why you love dams, you’ll find that the U.S. has plenty, and these are the tallest ones:
- Oroville Dam: 770 Feet — Thousands of eager construction workers flocked to Northern California during the 1960s to aid in the construction of the Oroville Dam, then the largest earth-filled damn in the world. But what makes Oroville so appealing to dam enthusiasts is its sheer size. Indeed, the dam is the tallest one in the U.S., towering at nearly 800 feet, and is used for water supply, electricity generation, and flood control. In addition, it impounds Lake Oroville, which is the second-largest manmade lake in California.
- Hoover Dam: 726.6 Feet — If the Hoover Dam is only the second-tallest dam in the U.S. (it’s shorter than Oroville by about 43 feet), then why is it the most famous? With the help of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, workers built the equivalent 60-story structure in 1935. At the time, it was the tallest dam in the world. It created America’s largest reservoir, providing drinking water to millions of Americans. The dam is something of an American icon and a symbol of its great engineering achievements.
- Dworshak Dam: 717 Feet — Even though the Dworshak is the third-tallest in the United States, it is the tallest straight-axis concrete dam in the entire Western Hemisphere! Located in Clearwater River, Idaho, this dam is unique because unlike its more famous and common contemporaries, it features a straight design rather than a curved one. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Dworshak in 1966 for flood control purposes, but it has been used since 1973 to generate electricity.
- Glen Canyon Dam: 710 Feet — If scenic dams are what you’re after, a visit to Glen Canyon is in order. This 710-foot dam rises out of the rusty sandstone walls of the canyon, harnessing the power of the Colorado River. The Glen Canyon Dam is the second highest concrete-arch dam in the U.S., second only to the Hoover Dam. It contains eight hydroelectric generators with a capacity of 1,320 megawatts! But Glen Canyon wasn’t built without controversy. Environmentalists vehemently opposed the project because it sits inside the federally protected Dinosaur National Monument.
- New Bullards Bar Dam: 645 feet — This Yuba County, California dam isn’t just one of the world’s tallest dams; it’s also responsible for the creation of the New Bullards bar Reservoir, a large reservoir that holds nearly 100,000 acre-feet of water. The Yuba County Water Agency constructed the existing dam in 1969, but it’s actually the fourth on the same site.
- New Melones Dam: 625 Feet — Forming the scenic New Melones Lake, the New Melones Dam near Jamestown, California is responsible for the state’s fourth largest reservoir. This embankment dam is particularly unique due to its construction with earth and rock. This dam’s history is fraught with controversy, though. Environmentalists and river recreationalists vehemently opposed the project, but eventually compromised by limiting the amount of water the dam could hold.
- Mossyrock Dam: 184.7 — The tallest dam in Washington, Mossyrock Dam creates the Riffe Lake reservoir and supplies 50 percent of Tacoma Power’s electricity. The concrete arch-gravity dam cost the City of Tacoma some $117 billion during construction in the 1960s, but it allowed the city to stop importing energy from nearby Seattle. Controversy abounded here, too; the dam’s construction displaced the people of several towns nearby.