As BP struggles to cap the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, are there any lessons from the Hoover Dam's construction?
I find it really interesting that the principal criticism we hear today about the federal role is that it hasn't played enough of a role. I think that's an attitude that dates from the dam. The government's reach now is accepted as being so broad and so wide that we now assume the government can come in and fix things. But if you look at how the Hoover Dam was built, the government provided the investment, but the technology on the ground was really in the hands of a consortium of private construction companies, who were experts on various pieces of the whole.
What would the West look like without the Hoover Dam?
There would have been real limits, much earlier, on the growth of major metropolitan centers that depend on water. Los Angeles would probably be smaller. San Diego would be much smaller. The state of Colorado—a lot of its agriculture and the growth of Denver—is dependent on the Colorado River. Salt Lake City is dependent on the river. It's just inescapable. We face the limits, but it's still an enormous amount of water. And it's fully exploited.