No Dam? No Lake! No Lake? No City!

If Robert P. McCulloch had not flown over the beautiful waters of Lake Havasu, there would never have been a Lake Havasu City.

But if Parker Dam didn’t exist, there would never have been a Lake Havasu in the first place.

It’s a bit like the riddle of the chicken and the egg.

That’s all history, as they say, and Lake Havasu was the catalyst that built Lake Havasu City.

Construction on Parker Dam, 155 miles downstream from Hoover Dam, began in 1934 and the project was completed in 1938.

photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

The dam project was fraught with controversy and nearly brought Arizona and California to a war over water.

When construction began in 1934, Arizona Gov. Benjamin B. Moeur was so disgruntled that water stored behind the dam would be pumped to growing Southern California cities. He called out the Arizona National Guard to take possession of the territory around the dam site. Arizona had not signed earlier negotiation Colorado River Compact and objected to relinquishing any Colorado River water to California.

As Gov. Moeur declared martial law and dispatched the 158th Infantry Regiment to the dam site that November, Southern Californians already were building a 242-mile-long aqueduct in anticipation of receiving Colorado River water. Because Arizona’s 158th Infantry Regiment had commandeered a ferryboat to inspect the dam site, punsters made light of the Arizona Army that had become the “Arizona Navy.”

During the early months of 1935, work on Parker Dam stopped, then started, then stopped again as the U.S. Supreme Court looked askance on Gov. Moeur and issued a preliminary injunction against Arizona, only to dismiss it two and a half months later. Arizona lost the battle on Aug. 30, 1935, when Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Bill, which included authorization for Parker Dam. And construction began in earnest. Despite more controversial activity including labor disputes, the dam was finally completed in 1938.

photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

It’s interesting to note that Parker Dam is known as “the deepest dam in the world.”  Engineers, digging for bedrock on which to build, had to excavate so far beneath the bed of the Colorado River that 73 percent of the dam’s 320-foot structural height is not visible.

Parker Dam was dedicated Nov. 19, 1938 – in a ceremony sponsored by Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, which today has grown to a consortium of 26 cities and agencies serving 19 million people. The water district’s Colorado River Aqueduct can deliver one billion gallons of Colorado River water to Southern California cities every day.

Members of the Colorado River and Chemehuevi were called upon to name the newly created lake and chose Lake Havasu. Havasu, loosely translated means “Blue Green Waters.”

Arizona, though, was not to be denied its share of the Colorado. In 1944, Arizona finally signed the Colorado River Compact, which opened the way for it to receive its 2.8 million cubic feet of the Colorado’s flow. But disagreements remained and were not settled until a prolonged court battle, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963. The decision, which generally favored Arizona, cleared the way for another Bureau of Reclamation project – the Central Arizona Project, which involved another aqueduct from Lake Havasu – this one pumping Colorado River water into Arizona. The backbone of the aqueduct system runs about 336 miles from Lake Havasu to a terminus southwest of Tucson. It was completed in 1993, but work remains to bring water to several Indian distribution systems.

Parker Dam photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

Parker Dam photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

Parker Dam photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

Parker Dam photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History

Parker Dam photo courtesy Lake Havasu Museum of History


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