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Lahontan Dam and Power Plant

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1911–1915, U.S. Reclamation Service (later known as U.S. Bureau of Reclamation). 16 miles west of Fallon on U.S. 50
  • Lahontan Dam and Power Plant (Bret Morgan)
  • Lahontan Dam and Power Plant (Julie Nicoletta)

This earthen dam plays a pivotal role in the Newlands Reclamation Project, which includes the Derby Diversion Dam, the Carson River Diversion Dam, 104 miles of canals, and 335 miles of open drains, all bringing water from the Sierra Nevada by way of the Truckee and Carson rivers. The main embankment of the dam is built into the Carson River and has a length of approximately 1,300 feet. Five reinforced concrete arches with 50-foot spans carry the roadway that runs along the top of the dam, adding a graceful element to the robust, functional structure. The massive reinforced concrete outlet tower contains twelve gates that release water from Lahontan Reservoir behind the dam. The stone and concrete powerhouse contains three generators that continue to supply electricity to the surrounding area.

The dam is an excellent example of an early twentieth-century federal project that attempted to transform a desert environment into a vital farming community. The Newlands system put many fewer acres into cultivation than intended—barely 60,000 acres rather than the projected 300,000. Other western reclamation projects on the Columbia and Colorado rivers were similarly unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the Newlands project served as a precursor to the massive federal projects that dammed rivers all over the West. It also points to the problems involved in taking substantial amounts of water from fragile ecosystems and creating economic dependence on one industry. Providing water to Fallon has resulted in dangerously low water levels in Pyramid Lake and the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Fallon, and the complete drainage of Winnemucca Lake. Fallon's farmers have been gradually forced to relinquish their water rights in order to preserve these areas.

Writing Credits

Julie Nicoletta



Julie Nicoletta, "Lahontan Dam and Power Plant", [Fallon, Nevada], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Nevada, Julie Nicoletta. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 168-169.

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