Parker Dam

Did you know Lake Havasu depends on the Parker Dam to hold all that water together so it doesn’t wash away?

Parker Dam and Lake Havasu with California Aqueduct
Have you ever enjoyed swimming in a lake on hot summer days?

Have you seen lake levels rise and fall excessively throughout the year and wondered why?
Ever wondered why some lakes seem to stay at the perfect level almost all year round?

Most of the popular lakes and reservoirs maintain these perfect water levels because of “dams”.

Parker Dam created a 45 mile long lake and reservoir popularly known as Lake Havasu. Like all great things, this dam wasn’t created in one day!

Parker DamParker Dam took approximately 4 years to build and was completed in 1938. Workers had to dig through 235 of sand and gravel to reach the riverbed.

In the 1930’s there were few modern conveniences in the middle of this dry and arid land in the middle of nowhere.
However, the dam workers were able to find a few conveniences in the small town of Cross Roads. It was a small town a few miles from the dam and housed many of the workers who built the dam.

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Why Did We Build Parker Dam?

The dam was created to harness the Colorado River, help with flood control and subsequently provide an aqueduct system to provide water throughout California and Arizona.

Water is pumped to an elevation of nearly 2,900 feet and then distributed through the aqueduct systems to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix. It took many years, until 1992 exactly, until the man made aqueduct system finally reached Tuscon!

Let’s not stop there! It offers more than just a great way to distribute water.

Hydroelectric power, via a powerplant on the California side of the river, provides clean and non-polluting energy throughout the Southwest corridor. The powerplant was completed in 1942 and has been providing a major source of electricity to users for decades.
Parker Dam Hydroelectric Power Plant
It does more than provide a year round water source and electricity.

It also creates a reservoir of natural coves and habitats with some artificial habitats too. These provide an environmental enhancement for endangered native fish to populate.
The Havasu National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 and is located at the northern part of Lake Havasu. The marshes and islands are wildlife sanctuaries for many species of fish, waterfowl and birds.

You might be surprised to find out that Lake Havasu and the Colorado River are in the middle of the desert! You may wonder how Lake Havasu has become so popular. The answer is… with a large body of water and controlled river way, water activities and water sports are abundant and plentiful.

Recreational activities range from swimming, fishing, boating, water skiing/boarding, camping, kayaking, and anything else you can imagine! Enjoy time on the water, in the water or near the water… all you have to do is pick one!

Sightseeing at Parker Dam is an easy day trip for you and your family. A few pullouts on either side of the dam offer great scenic views and give you a better idea of how huge the dam really is. Parker Dam also offers the starting point for the short scenic drive down the Parker Dam Road Byway.

Parker Dam close up

Parker Dam is known as the “Deepest Dam in the World”.

With 235 feet of concrete buried into the original riverbed you will only see 27% of the height of the dam with the naked eye!
If you take into consideration that Lake Havasu is a reservoir that can hold over 200 billion gallons of water and is 45 miles long – it can help put into perspective the immense proportions of this dam.
Parker Dam Cross Section

Parker Dam Statistics

  • The Dam
    • Volume of Concrete = 380,000 cubic yards
    • Type = Concrete Arch
    • Height = 320 feet
    • Crest Length = 856 feet
    • Crest Thickness = 39.5 feet
    • Base Thickness = 100 feet
  • The Powerplant
    • Generating Units = 4
    • Unit Capacity = 30 megawatts
    • Plant Capacity = 120 megawatts
    • Number of Penstocks = 4
    • Penstock diameter = 22 feet
  • Lake Havasu
    • Total Capacity = 646,200 acre-feet or 797,079,100 cubic meters
    • Elevation = 450 feet
    • Reservoir Length = 45 miles
    • Area = 20,400 acre-feet or 32 square miles
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Parker Dam Tours

Self guided tours WERE available through the powerplant on the California side of Parker Dam until the events of September 11, 2001.

Heightened security measures and concerns have forced the closure of this self guided tour.

In lieu of the poweplant tour, feel free to enjoy the scenic turnouts available at either side of the dam.

Back Side of Parker Dam
When you are on the Arizona side of the dam, take the road leading to “Take Off Point”. It will lead you to an overlook of the backside of the dam. You can see the water of Lake Havasu from this road, have access to picnic benches, a boat launch and a secret fishing area.

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Driving Over Parker Dam

More security measures have been instituted with the addition of concrete barriers on either side of the dam road entrances. The barriers restrict trailers, motor homes, and other larger towed items from accessing the bridge and roadway over the dam. There is an eight foot wide clearance allowing regular passenger vehicles to access the dam bridge road.

When traveling between the concrete barriers observe the traffic limit and enter with caution. Many vehicles have left remnants of paint on the concrete barriers as they have scratched their way through the access point!

As you drive past the barriers you will also note two security posts on either side of the dam.

It is important to note that the road over Parker Dam has restricted hours of operational use. Additional gates will prevent access from 10pm Mountain Standard Time nightly to 6am., MST the following morning. Signage along the roads toward the dam will also state restricted hours and serve as a reminder to motorists as they approach the dam.

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Interesting History Regarding Security of Hoover and Parker Dams

This isn’t the first time there have been concerns with security for Parker Dam. During WWII, with Hitler and Japan’s sweeping victories, the possibility of enemy threats at home had become a potential reality.

The Southwestern corridor of dam’s, more specifically Hoover, Davis, and Parker Dam’s, became a sensitive subject for possible terrorist attacks by German agents.

The possibility of sabotage existed, at many levels from tourists to workers at the dam. Therefore, the FBI was called in to do an extensive investigation into the vulnerability of Hoover Dam.

The timeliness of increased security measures could not have been any sooner as a “potential plot” had been uncovered in Mexico City in 1939. Two German agents living in Las Vegas had been captured, one of them an explosives expert. Their goal was to sabotage the aviation manufacturing industry in Los Angeles!

The German agents wanted to cut off power transmission over the dam’s high voltage lines and subsequently cripple the aviation industry. They had gone so far as making a dozen trips to Hoover Dam to do recognizance work.

Their plan included renting a boat pretending to go on a “fishing excursion”. They had hoped to attach several bombs to the intake tower and activate them. Fortunately, the German agents plot was uncovered. This prompted the government to enact even more stringent security measures with the dams.

In July of 1940 a Reclamation warehouse at Parker Dam was burned down. Pieces of an “infernal machine” or time bomb were discovered in the ruins. Higher alerts were initiated and increased security was placed at Hoover Dam in preparation for a possible attack.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, additional security measures were instituted along the Colorado River, more specifically within the Dam Network. Limitations for vehicle traffic, pedestrian traffic were put into place. Tours were discontinued or altered to prevent tourist activity in certain “high security” areas.

If you observe any suspicious activity in or around any of the dams, report them to the authorities immediately. Abandoned vehicles, abandoned packages of any size, or persons trespassing are just a few examples of what to report.

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