In exploring the world of dam building and water control in the American West prior to the New Deal, this book focuses on the work of John S. Eastwood, an early twentieth century engineer who aggressively promoted the dramatically less expensive -- and controversial -- multiple arch dam. Placing Eastwood's work within a vibrant milieu, replete with power struggles among engineers, corporate patrons and government bureaucrats, Donald C. Jackson's Building the Ultimate Dam illustrates how both technical and nontechnical issues have affected -- and controlled -- the financing and construction of dams.

Using more than 150 photographs and drawings, Jackson traces Eastwood's early career from his tenure as Fresno's first City Engineer, through work as a surveyor for Giant Sequoia logging companies, and finally to the construction of large-scale hydraulic engineering projects in the Sierra Nevada. In particular, Jackson documents how the design of a Henry Huntington-financed hydroelectric power system (known today as Southern California Edison Company's Big Creek project) fostered formulation of what the California-based engineer boldly termed "The Ultimate Dam." Significantly, Eastwood made this claim based on both the financial savings offered by his designs and on technological characteristics that distinguished them from traditional gravity dams.



The above photo shows the upstream face of Eastwood's Big Bear Valley Dam in Southern California, constructed in 1910-1911. This view illustrates the characteristic shape of a MULTIPLE ARCH dam in which the upstream surface is formed by a series of arches. At the time this photo was taken, Eastwood's dam was not impounding any water; when the reservoir fills, the arches will be inundated. And when the reservoir drops, the arches again will become visible. The vignette shows Eastwood circa 1912.



The above photo shows the downstream face of Eastwood's Mountain Dell Dam, completed near Salt Lake City in 1925. This view illustrates the characteristic shape of a BUTTRESS dam when viewed from the downstream side. The arches of the dam are supported upon the individual buttresses which, in turn, rest upon bedrock foundations. The structure is not a solid monolith extending across the dam site, but instead forms a highly articulated design presenting a distinctive visual appearance. The use of buttresses - rather than a solid wall - to support the upstream face allows for considerable savings in the quantity (and cost) of concrete masonry necessary to build the structure.

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Myriad social, economic, and professional forces influenced Eastwood's ability to create reservoirs for water users involved in irrigation, mining, municipal water supply, logging, hydroelectric power, and flood control. Most significantly, he experienced intense opposition from several noteworthy hydraulic engineers and businessmen -- led by the New England-based engineer John R. Freeman -- who criticized him because of so-called "psychological" attributes related to the visual character of his designs.



The above photo shows the downstream face of the Croton Dam completed in 1907 north of New York City in Westchester County. This is a massive masonry gravity dam of the type advocated by Eastwood's rival John R. Freeman. In contrast to multiple arch dams, gravity dams depend upon their enormous weight (or mass) to resist the hydrostatic pressure exerted by the reservoir; as such, they require huge quantities of construction material. Eastwood considered gravity designs to be wasteful and economically inefficient. After the two engineers clashed over the design of the Great Western Power Company's Big Meadows Dam in 1912-13, Eastwood's strong dislike of the gravity dam technology espoused by Freeman dramatically stimulated his promotion of multiple arch designs.

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Despite the opposition of Freeman (and other engineers who favored gravity designs), Eastwood built seventeen multiple arch dams in California, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and British Columbia from 1908 until his death in 1924. And in bringing these projects to fruition, he cultivated a far-ranging group of patrons that included (among many others) H.H. Sinclair, a leading proponent of early electric power systems in California; Sylvester Q. Cannon, City Engineer for Salt Lake City; San Diego real estate developer Colonel Ed Fletcher; and the corporate leadership of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.

Not content to revisit material familiar to western water historians, Jackson uncovers hitherto untapped sources of documentation in public archives and in the papers of private engineers and businessmen. By using these sources to examine Eastwood's advocacy of a technology that opened up the possibilty of water storage -- and hence water control -- to a wide range of potential users, BUILDING THE ULTIMATE DAM offers fresh perspective on how public and private interests have intertwined for more than a century to shape the enduring contours of western water controversy.

Copyright © 2006-21 Claud "Sonny" Rouch, all rights reserved. Website by OACYS Technology. Cover photo by Roberts Engineering.