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Which is Bigger Grand Coulee or Hoover Dam?

Last Update on February 14, 2023
by Sunny Samaroo
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The Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam are both symbols of American ingenuity. Together, they supply water and electricity to millions of people! Both are massive but which is bigger, Grand Coulee or Hoover Dam?

Answer: The Grand Coulee Dam is larger than the Hoover Dam. In fact, the Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydroelectric power-producing facility in the United States! Both dams have their fair share of differences, of which size is just one.

View of Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam (pictured) and the Grand Coulee Dam are both huge!

Size Difference Between Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam

The main difference between the Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam is their size. The Hoover Dam is 726.4 feet (221.4 meters) tall and 1,244 ft (379 m) wide. The Grand Coulee Dam is 550 ft (168 m) tall and a whopping 5,223 ft (1592 m) wide

The Grand Coulee Dam is a bit shorter than the Hoover Dam, which stands at about the height of a 60-story building. However, the Grand Coulee Dam is just over 4 times wider. Overall, the Hoover Dam is significantly smaller.

View of Grand Coulee Dam
The Grand Coulee Dam is much wider than it is tall.

Other Differences Between Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam

Location 

While the size is one of the main differences between the Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam, the one that's most obvious is location. 

The Grand Coulee Dam is in Washington State on the Columbia River. The Hoover Dam is on the border of Arizona and Nevada on the Colorado River.

Because they're in different locations, Northwest vs Southwest, the environment and climate around them are also different. This can have an impact on the operations of the dams and the way they were built to withstand the specific conditions of their location.

Construction 

Another difference between the Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam is their construction — both in terms of materials and time.

The Hoover Dam contains 3.25 million cubic yards (2.48 million cubic meters) of concrete. On the other hand, the Grand Coulee Dam contains 12 million cubic yards (9.17 million cubic meters) of concrete.

The Grand Coulee Dam was built between 1933 and 1942, while the Hoover Dam was built a bit earlier, between 1931 and 1935.

The construction of the Hoover Dam took five years, while the Grand Coulee Dam's construction took nine. The construction time differed due to dam size, technology, and resources.

One similarity between the two, however, is that they both provided employment during the Great Depression. During a time of uncertainty when many people didn't have jobs, thousands were employed to take part in construction.

Power Generation

You might have already guessed by the size difference: the Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam are very different in terms of power generation

As mentioned, the Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydroelectric power-producing facility in the United States. It has a capacity of 6,809 megawatts and generates over 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. To put that into perspective, that's enough electricity per year for 2 million households!

The Hoover Dam has a capacity of about 2,074 megawatts and generates roughly 4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. With that, the Hoover Dam provides enough power for roughly 700,000 households.

This difference is because of size but, more specifically, it's because of the reason for the size difference: the volume of water. The Grand Coulee Dam is bigger because the Columbia River is bigger (wider). Thus, the Grand Coulee Dam has a much larger reservoir than the Hoover Dam. More water is released through its turbines, generating more electricity.

Tours

Both dams are popular tourist destinations, but the Hoover Dam receives many more visitors than the Grand Coulee Dam

The Hoover Dam's popularity is largely due to its location near Las Vegas, one of the most-visited tourist cities in the U.S. Hoover Dam tours are among the most popular tours from Las Vegas. The dam and its Visitor Center are open year-round, and guided tours are offered every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Related Reading: Ultimate Hoover Dam Self-Guided Tour

The Grand Coulee Dam is in Washington State, which doesn't draw in as many tourists as Las Vegas. Also, while the Visitor Center is open year-round, guided tours of the Grand Coulee Dam are only offered from May to October each year

People at Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam welcomes visitors year-round — it's almost always busy.

A Key Similarity Between Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam

Though they have many differences, Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam have the same purpose. After all, they're both dams! Both Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam have three main purposes: to control floods, store water, and generate electricity

The dams block water in the rivers they're located on — Columbia River and Colorado River. When the water becomes too much for the dams to hold back, they release it downstream in controlled amounts, preventing floods.

As for storing water, the Grand Coulee Dam and the Hoover Dam both have reservoirs. They're the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake and Lake Mead, respectively. During the rainy season, rather than having all that extra water just escape downstream the river, the dams hold it so that it can be used during the dry season.

The stored water can be used for lots of things, like irrigation and supplying water to homes and businesses. It's also used to generate electricity. Dams have turbines that, when turned by the force of water being released, generate electricity.

Related Reading: What happens if Hoover Dam shuts down? 

View of Lake Mead
Shown above is the Hoover Dam's reservoir: Lake Mead.

In Conclusion

The Grand Coulee Dam has the Hoover Dam firmly beat in terms of size. Even beyond size, the two dams are pretty different. From how much power they generate to how popular they are as tourist destinations, both are unique.

However, they're both incredibly important structures that protect and aid their states, by preventing floods and supplying water and electricity.

There are plenty of reasons to visit the Hoover Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam. Both are impressive — even more so in person. Definitely consider taking a trip to both if you can!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sunny Samaroo

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