Colorado River Dams – Everything you need to know

The Colorado River is a key source of water for many regions and industries across North America. To ensure its resources are managed responsibly, numerous dams have been constructed along the river’s course and tributaries. These structures serve multiple purposes – storing water, creating hydroelectric energy, and preventing flooding.

This article will investigate the facts about these Colorado River Dams, such as where they are located, their size, and their purpose. We’ll also explore why there are so many of them along the river and which ones are acknowledged as the biggest.

By understanding more about these dams we can appreciate how they manage this vital resource effectively.

Colorado River Dams

List of Dams on the Colorado River

The iconic Hoover Dam, a marvel of engineering erected between 1931 and 1936, is not the only structure that harnesses the power of the Colorado River.

Numerous dams have been built along its banks to provide water and electricity to the surrounding area, each one an impressive feat of design and construction.

From Glen Canyon Dam, which regulates water flow through the Grand Canyon, to San Vicente Dam, which holds back Las Vegas’ drinking water supply, here is a list of some major dams on the Colorado River.

1. Hoover Dam

This iconic 726-foot tall concrete arch-gravity dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936, located across the Nevada-Arizona border, in order to regulate flooding and generate hydroelectricity that serves millions of households in the region.

2. Glen Canyon Dam

Spanning from 1956 to 1966, this 710-foot high arch-gravity structure creates the enormous Lake Powell, which is one of the biggest man-made reservoirs in America.

3. Parker Dam

Constructed in 1938, this arched gravity dam is situated between Arizona and California, hosting its own body of water called Lake Havasu on the Colorado River. It also supplies hydroelectricity to both states.

4. Davis Dam

Completed in 1951, this earth-fill embankment dam stands on the border between Arizona and Nevada, forming Lake Mohave on the Colorado River. It produces hydroelectricity for millions of households in the area.

5. Imperial Dam

Constructed from 1935 to 1938 near Yuma, Arizona, this earth-fill embankment dam holds back the largest reservoir in North America – Lake Mead – as well as providing water for irrigation and other purposes in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

6. Navajo Dam

Finished in 1962, this earth-fill embankment dam is located on the San Juan River (a Colorado River tributary), creating Lake Powell, another large man-made reservoir. It produces hydroelectricity for many households in the area.

7. Mormon Flat Dam

Built from 1933 to 1935 near Phoenix, Arizona, this earth-fill embankment dam forms Canyon Lake on the Salt River and is a major water supplier for Phoenix and its suburbs.

8. Glen Canyon Bridge

This 1,271-foot-long steel arch bridge was completed in 1959 and spans the Colorado River between Arizona and Utah. It is a remarkable engineering feat that provides a vital link for US Route 89 travelers.


These few dams on the Colorado River have greatly impacted millions of households in the region, providing water and electricity as well as marvelous feats of engineering that demonstrate the power of human ingenuity.

Colorado River Dams Water Levels

The Colorado River is a lifeline for millions in the Western US, providing irrigation and drinking water to vast populations.

In order to manage the levels of its dams sensibly, states along the river are taking steps such as implementing the “Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan”.

This plan includes reducing allocations of water among states such as California and Mexico, as well as promoting water conservation.

Although these measures have been successful in keeping the dams’ water levels balanced, they are only effective if all participants adhere to them.

It is essential that states work together to safeguard the future of this vital resource and maintain healthy dam water levels for generations.

By cooperating, we can ensure the Colorado River will stay a strong economic and ecological force in our area. Together, we can make sure the river stays healthy for years to come.

Why Are There Dams on the Colorado River

The Colorado River is a vital waterway in the United States, and its dams and reservoirs are strategically placed to prevent flooding, produce electricity, and store water for drinking and agricultural use.

With many of these structures established as early as the late 1800s, they play an integral role in safeguarding the river’s stability and supplying over 40 million people in seven states.

The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for overseeing most of the dams on the Colorado River, working with stakeholders to equitably divide water among all users—including farmers, city dwellers, and tribes.

Through controlled operations, they also help maintain downstream access to water when necessary and generate clean energy via some of the world’s biggest hydropower plants, like Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam, and Parker Dam.

Despite criticisms of their environmental impacts, dams on the Colorado River are crucial to effectively managing its resources and ensuring fair usage.

These structures not only offer safe drinking water and electricity but protect downstream communities from floods.

Largest Dams on the Colorado River

The majestic Colorado River is a vital resource to millions of people in the US, supplying water and generating hydroelectricity. Five of the largest dams on this river are as follows:

  • Hoover Dam is a 726-foot engineering masterpiece built on the Nevada-Arizona border.
  • Glen Canyon Dam spans the Arizona-Utah border, standing 710 feet tall, forming Lake Powell.
  • Parker Dam tames the Colorado River’s flow with its 320-foot height and provides electricity to nearby towns.
  • Davis Dam stands at 289 feet, controlling floods and supplying irrigation water to farms in Arizona and Nevada.
  • Lastly, Imperial Dam stands 170 feet tall, providing water to Arizona’s towns. Despite its small stature, Imperial Dam plays an essential role in the river’s environment.

How Many Dams Are on the Colorado River and Its Tributaries?

The Colorado River and its tributaries boast a whopping one hundred dams, including the iconic Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam.

Despite their usefulness, the dams have sparked much controversy – disrupting natural flows of water and destroying wildlife habitats.

Native Americans, whose traditional lifestyles depend on the river, have been negatively impacted as well.

To ensure a sustainable future for both people and nature it is essential to continue managing these dams responsibly.

The sheer number of dams along the river demonstrates how it’s used to support people living in the area. With effective management, these structures can remain a positive force in the region.

10 Facts About the Colorado River

  1. Meandering through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the majestic Colorado River is one of the longest rivers in North America, stretching for an expansive 1,450 miles to reach its terminus in the Gulf of California in Mexico.
  2. Originating from the Rocky Mountain National Park and traversing seven U.S. states including Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and New Mexico – this river supplies over 25 million people with fresh drinking water.
  3. Over millions of years, the Colorado River has cut a dramatic channel through the landscape to create one of the world’s most iconic landmarks – the Grand Canyon.
  4. In all, the Colorado River boasts more than 35 major tributaries, the Gila, San Juan, and Green Rivers among them.
  5. The Colorado River Delta was once a vast wetland that is now severely threatened due to water extraction over the decades.
  6. Inhabiting this waterway are numerous creatures, comprising fish, otters, beavers, and over 300 species of birds.
  7. In the 1930s, the great Hoover Dam was erected on the Colorado River to provide electricity for many Southwestern states.
  8. Whitewater rafting is a popular activity that brings thousands of people annually to the Colorado River’s tumultuous rapids.
  9. A unique artificial island, named ‘Robinson Crusoe Island’, was constructed near the Colorado River’s mouth in 2014, and serves as a protected habitat for threatened species such as the Colorado River fish.
  10. The Colorado River is an iconic waterway full of natural wonders and historical accomplishments.

The awe-inspiring Colorado River is an integral part of many lives and histories. Its grandeur and turbulent ecosystem captivate all who encounter it, offering a wealth of secrets and surprises.

A true testament to nature’s strength and beauty, the Colorado River demands to be celebrated! Boasting a variety of lush landscapes, diverse wildlife populations, and unstoppable currents, this magnificent waterway is truly one-of-a-kind.

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