The Building of Flaming Gorge Dam

This episode originally aired on KCPW January 11, 2008
This episode’s audio file may be found at http://www.utahhumanities.org/BeehiveArchive.htm.
© 2008 Utah Humanities Council

The Script:

Nearly forty-four years ago, the Flaming Gorge Dam in Daggett County was dedicated by Ladybird Johnson, wife of then-President Lyndon Johnson.  Initially, plans to build a dam on Utah’s stretch of the upper Green River seemed to center on Echo Park inside Dinosaur National Monument, rather than the present-day site of Flaming Gorge, but opposition from conservation groups including the Sierra Club stalled the approval process for the Echo Park Dam and began to turn public support away from the plan.  When President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the bill allowing the development of water reclamation projects on the Green and Upper Colorado River basins, the vision of a dam at Echo Park melted away and was replaced by the very real plan to build the Flaming Gorge Dam.

Construction on the dam began in 1958, but the first concrete wasn’t poured until two years later.  To house the workers that built the dam, the federal government and the company that won the construction contract brought trailers and temporary houses to the dam site, creating an entire town, known as Dutch John, almost overnight.  The population of the town, at the height of construction on the dam, numbered over 3,000 people.

By the time construction on the dam wrapped up in 1964, it wore a price tag of $65,000,000.  Not surprisingly, opinions about the dam and the reservoir it created are mixed.  Some Daggett County residents claimed the project unleashed a much need economic overhaul of the region, while others miss the tight community they believe vanished with the changes brought by the dam.

The Rest of the Story:

The late Marc Reisner, in his masterful book Cadillac Desert, argues that there was a clear link between the denial of funds for the Echo Park Dam by the U.S. Congress, the building of the Flaming Gorge Dam, and approval to build the Glen Canyon Dam in southwestern Utah.  The way Riesner lays out the history of the Echo Park project, Flaming Gorge was part of the sacrifice David Brower and the Sierra Club had to make for helping kill the dam in Echo Park.  According to Reisner, Brower, who became the Sierra Club’s first executive director in 1952, believed he was partly to blame for the “death” of Glen Canyon.  In Reisner’s words, Brower vowed to “never again …  compromise over such a dam” (285).

Sources:

See Michael W. Johnson, with Robert E. Parson and Daniel A. Stebbins, A History of Daggett County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Daggett County Commission, 1998), 189-219; Doris Karren Burton, A History of Uintah County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Uintah County Commission, 1996), 320; and Jay R. Bingham, “Reclamation and the Colorado,” Utah Historical Quarterly 28 (July 1960): 233-249.  Also see March Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (New York: Penguin, 1993).

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