I visited Hoover dam for the first time this week, one of the million who visit the dam every year. I have a love-hate-hate relationship with large dams. Having been born and raised in independent India, I was indoctrinated that science was the solution to saving India. The Bhakra Dam was termed by the first Prime Minister of the country as the “Temple of Modern India.” Until of course the dam project that defeated the World Bank; the Sardar Sarovar Dam which displaced over 250,000 indigenous people. After decades of protest by environmental activists, the World Bank had to withdraw from the project in 1994. The famed writer-author-activist Arundhati Roy was a major influence on my generation in India, highlighting the rights of indigenous population and the dangers of large dam projects. One of the largest dam projects, the Three Gorges Dam in China flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced over 1.3 million people.
Hoover represents the US’s audacious even if occasionally misguided boldness. This engineering marvel was built in the height of post depression. That takes some balls. It captured the imagination of Americans even before it was completed and continues to be one of the most visited tourist sites in the country. It created thousands of jobs when none existed. An example of American boldness and ingenuity but also a reminder that science, engineering, and technology without consideration of long term impact on the environment is not wise. Paradox, my friends, but one hopefully, we have learned from. The world of big dams is long gone but Hoover still stands as a reminder. A reminder to use science and engineering wisely. A reminder that science and engineering have to to serve humanity and Planet Earth. The tail cannot wag the Dog!