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100 years later, Roosevelt Dam continues to put a charge in the Valley

Oct. 1 marked the centennial of the first day that electricity was permanently run to the Valley from Theodore Roosevelt Dam.

The dam was still incomplete 100 years ago, and electricity wasn’t even the main focus of the project. Hydro-electric power just happened to be a byproduct of water-delivery efforts.

The Phoenix area was growing, as was the need for a consistent water supply. When the first territorial census was taken in 1872, only 700 people lived in the Valley. By 1900, the population had grown to 20,000. Farmers were looking for ways to irrigate their land, and a new water solution was needed to combat drought in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

James LaBar, a senior historical analyst for SRP, said once construction began on Roosevelt Dam after the signing of the National Reclamation Act, it was quickly realized that more construction was possible if there was a power source to support it. Hydro-electric power was used to excavate lands, mix cement and move stone blocks.

“It’s funny, renewable energy is a hot topic right now, but we’ve been doing renewables since we started, with hydro-electricity,” LaBar said. “Now we’re also working with things like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energies.”

After a number of government tests and logistical challenges, power was permanently delivered in October 1909 to six customers. The largest customer was Phoenix Gas and Electric Company, which sent power to some individual homes and buildings.

Shelly Dudley, a senior historical analyst for SRP, said the need for power grew along with population growth after World War II and with the invention of air conditioning.

Three additional hydro-heads were built on canals, which helped increase power production by 60 percent, Dudley said.

Other power sources sprouted as the Valley’s population continued to rise. Now the Phoenix metro area uses more power on a typical summer day than New York City.

“We think that Roosevelt Dam laid the foundation for all the development in Arizona,” Dudley said. The dam met the water and power needs of the Valley, and moved beyond urban centers to bring electricity to farm life as well, she said.

The celebration of 100 years of permanent power falls close to the dedication of Roosevelt Dam in 1911, and the granting of Arizona statehood in 1912.

“We see these three events as all strung together,” LaBar said.

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