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History of the Hydraulic Investigations and Laboratory Services Group

The Bureau of Reclamation began testing hydraulic models in 1930 in the laboratory of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station in Fort Collins, Colorado. The unprecedented magnitude of Boulder (Hoover), Grand Coulee, and Shasta Dams made establishing a hydraulic laboratory a necessity for Bureau design practice. The early years of hydraulic model testing were almost exclusively devoted to studies involving adequacy and safety of large structures and appurtenances such as spillways and energy dissipators.. In later years, it was determined that many smaller structures were being overdesigned due to the lack of satisfactory design guidelines. Therefore, an increased effort was focused on developing general design criteria suitable for a wide variety of structures.

Hydraulic laboratories were established and operated by the Bureau of Reclamation at several locations between 1930 and 1946. In 1946, the laboratories were centralized in one location at the Denver Federal Center following its conversion from military to civilian use after World War II. The laboratory floor area covers about 54,000 square feet. Physical aspects of the laboratory have not changed significantly since the 1940's, but the sophisticated model studies and use of modern data acquisition equipment and instruments have kept pace with the state of the art in hydraulic laboratory practice.

Links to Other Pages Describing our History


Glen Canyon Dam
Bureau of Reclamation photo by Joe Dahlig.

The WRRL was instrumental in the laboratory testing, design, and implementation of the 1983 emergency repairs to the spillway tunnels at Glen Canyon Dam. Air slots were added to the spillway tunnels to prevent cavitation damage that hampered the tunnel's operations during the extreme snowmelt runoff of 1983. This photo shows a test release of 40,000 cfs on August 12, 1984.

Last reviewed: 05/26/15