The Austin Dam 1896

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BY H. H. CHILDERS. Scientific American August 8, 1896 The Great Granite Dam, The Great Dam

Long before the scientific mind, with the aid of capital, had determined to utilize the vast volume of water that is precipitated with such tremendous force at Niagara, the citizens of Austin, Texas, had begun the construction of a great dam across the (Texas) Colorado River, two and a half miles above the city limits, Its purpose was to furnish light and water for the city and incidentally a considerable surplus power for other uses. The idea was not a new one. Examples can be found in many places.
J.T.Fanning, of Minneapolis, a well-known hydraulic engineer, who was consulted on the feasibility of the plan, said in his report : " On inspection of the new dam in progress, in company with the board, I was impressed with the magnitude of the engineering work, and especially with the exceeding great responsibility which the city has committed to the Board. I find that the dam which you have projected will raise the water of the river 60 feet above the former low water level, that it will have a maximum height to its crest of 70 feet and that its crest overfall will be about 1,125 feet long, and that the dam will flow the water twenty-five or thirty miles up the valley, creating an extensive lake. This dam is being constructed of solid masonry and is faced on each side with large blocks of excellent granite.

Not for its length alone or its great area of flowage is the dam remarkable, for in France we observe three longer masonry dams—at Bouzey, Chazilla and Gros Bais, 1,545, 1,759 and 1,805 feet long respectively, and in Wales the Vyrnwy dam, 1,350 feet long, the latter being for the storage reservoir of the Liverpool water supply, Not in the height alone, for in France there are three dams, in Spain two, in Belgium one, and in California one masonry dam exceeding 150 feet in height. There are fourteen other notable masonry dams having heights exceeding 100 feet. But none of these dams are upon great rivers, and very few of them have the water passing over their crests."

There is one example of greater water power, but obtained under different conditions. The following is a list of the other great water powers of the United States :
• Minneapolis 25,000 horse power
• Holyoke 12,000 hp
• Manchester 12,000 hp
• Lowell 11,000 hp
• Cohoes 6,500 hp
• Watertown 4,675 hp
• Oswego 2,500 hp

The maximum force of the Austin dam is 14,639 horse power, or 224 mill power, according to another unit of measurement. The measurement of the Austin darn, 1,150 feet in length, 60 feet high above low water line, 66 feet in width at base, and 18 feet in width at the top.

As early as January 4, 1839, when Austin was mentioned in an act of Congress as the probable seat of government for the Republic of Texas, attention was called to the possibilities of a large supply of water power from the Colorado River. In 1871 and 1873, the question of erecting a dam across the Colorado River at Austin was seriously discussed and the plans partially matured.

The actual construction of this dam began in 1890, after the city of Austin had voted a municipal tax that was expected to realize a suns equal to $1,400,000. On the 24th of June, 1895, the city voted for an additional issue of bonds to the amount of $200,000 to complete the work already begun, and which was then. incomplete as to reservoir, settling basin and water pipe. The dam proper was completed May 2, 1893. In 1895 every part of the structure was finished except the reservoir and additional piping. The contract has already been let for the construction of the former.

The Colorado River at Austin drains, approximately, an area of 40,000 square miles, and at the highest floods furnishes a flow of 200,000 cubic feet per second and a mean flow of 1,000 feet per second. The river in this section flows between high hills without alluvial valleys and between bowlders (boulders) and deposits of lime rock, supplied largely by springs in dry seasons.
The artificial lake that the erection of the dam has created extends up the Colorado River 30 miles, has a water surface of 8 square miles and a total volume of 2,800,000,000 cubic feet of water. The widest point on the lake does not exceed a quarter of a mile and the maximum depth is 60 feet. It is called Lake McDonald, in honor of John McDonald, who was Mayor of Austin during the period of the construction of the dam.
Mr. Ellison Saunders was president of the Board of Trade of Austin immediately prior to the inauguration of the movement that contemplated this great engineering feat, and it was largely through his untiring effort, assisted by a few other public spirited citizens, that the enterprise assumed a substantial shape.

The material used in the body of the dam is the best quality of red granite, obtained in Burnet County, Texans, 60 miles distant, the same out of which the Capitol is built, limestone, found in the immediate vicinity in inexhaustible quantities, and hydraulic cement. The original contract for masonry, material, etc., was $611,313.39.
The power house was erected at a cost of $45,917.98. The remaining expenditure, that in the aggregate reached the sum of $1,600,000, was for machinery, penstocks, turbine wheels, pumps, sluice pipes, water pipes, electric towers, etc.
The turbine wheels in use are of the " Victor" pattern except one, the " American," that is used to operate the 3,000,000 gallon Goulds pumps, made in Chicago. Another pump of a capacity of 4,000,000 gallons daily is also in use. This part of the machinery was furnished under contract, by the Stillwell-Bierce & Smith-Vaile Company, of Dayton, Ohio, amounting to $47,954.00. The electrical distribution system was furnished by the at a cost of $115,678.29, which included towers, poling, wiring, etc., and did not include dynamos furnished by them at a cost of $7,700.55.
The power for street car service is developed by two 125 H. P. Multipolar Generators, Thomson-Houston type, manufactured by the General Electric Company, of Schenectady, N. Y.
The incandescent lighting is from Wood alternators ; the total number of 16 C. P. lights is 15, 000. The arc lights of the city are 189, and are suspended from 31 iron towers 150 feet high.ARC Tower Austin Texas 1895ARC Tower Austin Texas 1895 Under the contract the light emanating from one of the towers with six arc lights was to be sufficiently bright to see the time of night by an ordinary watch, within a radius of 3,000 feet. The arc light machines are of the " Wood" make, three in number, with a total capacity of 240-2,000 C. P. lights. The
power for industrial purposes is produced on a three-phase (Wood) 250 H. P. generator.
The four governors regulating the speed of the waterwheels, which furnish the current of electricity for the street car service, were furnished by the Replogle Governor Works of Akron, Ohio.
The cast-iron water pipes and special castings cost the city $107,582.15, and for laying the same $31,205.07.

When the subject of owning and operating its own water and light plant was first suggested to the people of Austin (which has about 25,000 inhabitants), they were confronted by strong opposition from the private corporation that was then furnishing light and water to the city. This corporation claimed to have vested rights and an unexpired contract.
After a protracted litigation, annoying and ex-pensive to both, a compromise was effected that has put an end to further contention.
The argument that decided the city of Austin to adopt the public plan of watering and lighting the city was the great reduction in cost to individual consumers and the advantage to be derived from a large surplus power for future commercial use, and for this use it can lease at least 12,000 horse power.
A disposition upon the part of municipalities to run and operate large plants has shown itself in
many countries, particularly in Switzerland and in parts of Scotland, and the city of Austin claims to have already realized the wisdon of its departure from the old plan. Anterior to the construction of the
Austin dam, a private corporation, operated by aliens, furnished the water supply with the Holly system, and it had not only proven itself inadequate to supply the demands of the growing city, but the service was inferior, on account, in part, of the absence of a reservoir and other essentials of more modern use.
The city of Austin has not received benefits alone from the larger and cheaper supply of water, better and cheaper lights, and additional power for commercial use, by the construction of the dam, but it has at its door one of the most beautiful inland lakes in the world, the delight of the angler and those fond of aquatic diversion.
Steamers ply in these waters, arid during the summer seasons give life and activity to the landscape and exhilarating amusement to the pleasure seekers by making delightful cruises up and down the lake for twenty miles.
Two of the most celebrated international regattas of the last decade have been held on these waters, and the cracks of the two hemispheres were there for the prizes that the management offered for the encouragement of the sport.
John F. Pope, a local engineer, after a careful examination, reported favorably upon the practicability of the dam, but Joseph P. Frizille, of Boston, was the first civil engineer whose able report gave the first substantial impetus to the movement. He was made chief engineer of construction, and after his retirement, some months later, a number of engineers successively occupied the same position, and a strange fatality seemed to attach to the office. Gorham P. Low, of Gloucester, Mass., one of the engineers, was stricken with paralysis, and died January 8, 1894. Joseph Kepferle, another, died suddenly December 7, 1894. G. W. Sublette, of Minneapolis, was the last in charge, and remained at his post until the services of an engineer were no longer required.
A company, with a capital stock of $100,000, has been organized, and are now taking the initiative in the erection of a cotton mill at the dam. Similar enterprises are likely to follow, until all the remaining surplus water power is utilized.

Comparative statement of cost per light in cities having public and private plants.

The author of this article is largely indebted to Mr. John T. Smith, a civil engineer, of Austin, for facts, figures and pictures.


Great Flood of 1900 Ruined 'The Great Granite Dam'

The following is some info and history from a publication in 1900...
A water power was created on Colorado River a short distance above the city of Austin, as related in the following pages. After the dam was completed the project was found to be only partially successful, as the amount of water in Colorado River fell far short of the original predictions. There was at the inception a lack of hydrographic knowledge, especially in regard to the minimum flow of the river, and other information, now known to be vital to the proper location of the dam, was not obtained. Finally, during the great flood of April 7, 1900, the dam was destroyed, with great loss of life and property.

From measurements taken in March, 1890, it was concluded that the minimum flow of Colorado River was 1,000 cubic feet per second. Upon this basis, and upon the assumption that this minimum flow would be held back nights and Sundays and utilized only sixty hours a week, it was concluded that the flow over the Austin dam would develop more than 14,000 horsepower. The city's demands were placed at 2,000 horsepower, and it was the intention to sell to manufacturers the surplus of 12,000 horsepower.

On May 28, 1896, when power was being furnished for pumping, for city lighting, and for city motors, the level of Lake McDonald sank below the crest of the dam and remained below until July 6, reaching its minimum (5.7 feet below the crest on July 1. It gas also below the crest from August 6 to August 25 and from September 10 to September 22. This condition was sufficient evidence that the minimum flow could not furnish even 900 horsepower, while 5,227 horsepower had been counted upon. It was apparent that much of the inflow was lost by evaporation, the area exposed to evaporation being 3 square miles and the low level occurring during the hottest part of the summer. Notwithstanding this evidence that the river could not, during certain seasons, furnish power for its existing load of water, lights, and motors, early in 1897 the Rapid Transit Street Railway and the Dam and Suburban Railway were added to the list of power consumers. After that the energy developed by the water power was utilized

* (1) in pumping water,
* (2) in furnishing light to city and citizens,
* (3) in running the Rapid Transit Street Railway,
* (4) in running the Dam and Suburban Railway, and
* (5) in running the motors of various users of power in the city-such as for planers, printing presses, etc.

To supply all of these demands required a total average of 1,000 horsepower. ........

At 11.20 a.m. on April 7, when the lake level had reached a height of 11.07 feet above the crest of the dam, the dam gave way at the point marked B in fig. 10, about 300 feet from the east end of the dam. Observers at E, F, and H all agree in their testimony that it first opened at B, and as though the mad current had simply pushed its way through the structure. Sooner than it takes to write these words the two sections AB and BC, each about 250 feet long, were shoved or pushed into the lower positions A'B' and B'C', about 60 feet from their former positions in the dam. There was not the slightest overturning. After the warning break at B, the water over the part ABC was seen to rise several feet, and the next instant the pent-up waters were pouring over the sections A'B' and C'B'...........
As soon as the sections were broken out and moved to the positions A'B' and B'C', the partially pent-up waters rushed through the gap, those held back by CK producing a strong current in the direction of the power house. This current struck the wall of the power house almost on a level with the floor of the pump room (about 12 feet below the crest of the dam), crushed in all of the windows on the west side, flooded all of the lower stories, and caught and drowned five employees and three small boys. Two of the employees miraculously escaped by climbing through a belt hole in the dynamo room (x y m n, fig. 10). These workmen were pumping water from the lower portions of the power house.