Civil engineers demonstrated feats in structural design when they created some of the largest dams in the United States. While an engineer’s process involves complicated procedures, such as finite element method and types of finite element analysis, anyone can see the results of their incredible work. Although the American Society of Civil Engineers deemed over 4,095 dams in America unsafe, these impressive structures have stood for decades, and in some cases centuries, while effectively doing their job.
- Oroville Dam: Located on California’s Feather River, the Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States at 770 feet. At its base, it extends for three-quarters of a mile. This dam is designed to control the Lake Oroville reservoir, which provides drinking water, hydroelectric power, and water-based recreation while minimizing flood damage. Officially dedicated in 1968 after seven years of construction, the dam has stood for fifty years.
- Hoover Dam: The Hoover Dam is perhaps America’s most famous dam and was certainly the most expensive engineering project in the country at the time. It was built between 1931 and 1935 and stands at 726 feet tall, which made it the tallest dam until the Oroville was built. The dam’s base measures 600 feet wide and the whole structure weighs 6.6 million tons. The Hoover Dam straddles the border between Nevada and Arizona, holding back the Colorado River and controlling the manmade reservoir of Lake Mead.
- Dworshak Dam: As the third tallest dam in the country, the Dworshak Dam boasts the tallest straight-axis (as opposed to curved) in the Western Hemisphere. As this surely required a careful application of finite element method to control the fluid-structure interaction, it took almost seven years to construct. Despite these accolades, there was much controversy over the construction and proposed expansion of this Idaho dam concerning the disruption of wildlife in the area.
- Glen Canyon Dam: The Glen Canyon Dam was built between 1956 and 1966 on the upper Colorado River near Page, Arizona. Behind it, the dam forms Lake Powell, America’s second-largest man-made reservoir. In addition to managing water distribution into the river’s basin and generating hydroelectric power, the dam ensures fewer droughts for those downstream.
- Ashfork-Bainbridge Steel Dam: This structure was completed in 1898 and has been holding back water since before the state it sits in, Arizona, was officially part of the Union. Unlike the majority of dams in the country, it was built of steel and there were no intentions of building it for hydroelectricity generation purposes.
A civil engineering company would now design water infrastructure with the finite element method to ensure the most stable and environmentally sustainable dams. When dams like the Ashfork-Bainbridge were first built at a humble 46 feet tall, they could not have imagined how high developments in civil engineering would be able to take them.