Friday, November 2, 2018

Hoover Dam

I must admit that Las Vegas isn’t my favorite city. In fact, I don’t think it makes my top 100 or even top 500. That’s why my heart sank when I heard last year that this year’s GridSecCon would be there. I was especially disappointed because all the other GridSecCon’s that I’ve attended have been in (or near) old historic cities with nice architecture to look at: St. Paul, MN last year, Quebec City in 2016, Philadelphia in 2015, San Antonio in 2014 and Jacksonville, FL in 2013 (OK, Jacksonville itself doesn’t count as old and historic, but it’s not far from St. Augustine, which is definitely both!).

However, there was one really good thing about Las Vegas: It’s very near Hoover Dam, which I’d never seen. And since there was a conference tour scheduled for Friday (there are always tours on Friday morning of the conference, to power plants, substations, etc.), I signed up for that early.

The great thing about this tour was that it was for power industry insiders and was set up by WECC, who co-ran the conference and of course audits the US Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the dam. This proved very fortunate in three ways:

  1.  We got a good briefing on the dam before our tour, and during the tour we had two longtime workers who encouraged us to ask “any dam question you want”. We heard a lot of interesting stories about construction, etc., including the poignant fact that, of the 112 deaths associated with construction, the first and the last were a father and his son
  2. You have to take an elevator down into the dam for the tour. The first elevators take you to the level where all the generators are visible and we could walk among them – quite neat, of course. But there’s a second, smaller set of elevators that go down to the waterline lever, where you can walk out along the base of the dam. And that was very cool, indeed. This second level isn’t available for public tours.
  3. There are two elevators from the top of the dam. One is for the public tours, and has an hour wait (it looked like that when we were there). The other is for the workers, which we went on – thus saving a whole hour!

It’s obviously quite an engineering marvel (I love the figure we were quoted regarding throughput: 92,000 gallons per second go through each half of the dam – there are identical halves, one in Nevada the other in Arizona, since the state line runs down the middle of the river – meaning the total is about 184,000 gallons per second!).

But what I found most impressive was how the people we talked to really believed in what the dam was meant to do. Of course, irrigation and flood control were its biggest purpose, but the second was bringing electricity to millions of people, many of whom hadn’t had it before. And a third purpose is seen in its construction period: 1931-1936, the depths of the Depression. It gave jobs to many thousands of people (almost all men, I’m sure. And virtually no minorities. There were limits to the idea of progressivism back then). In an era when government is often seen as at best ineffective and at worst destructive, this is a government project that can truly be said to have done a huge amount of good. And I suspect there are one or two more like it…

I want to thank Brandy Daniels of WECC, who organized the tour and provided the group picture.

Any opinions expressed in this blog post are strictly mine and are not necessarily shared by any of the clients of Tom Alrich LLC.

If you would like to comment on what you have read here, I would love to hear from you. Please email me at Please keep in mind that if you’re a NERC entity, Tom Alrich LLC can help you with NERC CIP issues or challenges like what is discussed in this post – especially on compliance with CIP-013; we also work with security product or service vendors that need help articulating their message to the power industry. To discuss this, you can email me at the same address.


  1. Sounds like more fun than I've ever had in Las Vegas (except for Martin Sheen sitting next to me at a blackjack table)

  2. Hey Tom, I did not realize you were on the tour. I would have tried to find you to talk on the bus ride to hover. It was a great tour, and I am grateful to our guides and Brandy for doing it for us. The main take away I had was, it is beautiful on the outside, but there are some many details on the inside that are amazing as well. There are so many detailed emblems in the terrazzo floor throughout the plant and they are all hand designed and different. The story of the seven brothers from the family that did the flooring and put the nails in the different parts of the plant was interesting. Each brother put a nail in and they are pointing towards Italy where the family was from. I checked the one pointed out to us with a compass on my phone and it was close from what I could tell. I hope the history channel or someone would write down some more about this story. I could not find too much from googling. Working in a hydro fleet, I really appreciated getting to tour this historic landmark Dam.

  3. Thanks, Steve. I'm sorry we didn't connect, but if you want to drop me an email at, we can connect now! I had intended to mention all the great art deco designs, both in the floors as well as a number of the structures (like the water intake tower in one of my pictures). They don't make dams like they used to!