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NEWS
National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Named
September 9, 2004

Throughout history, achieving the unachievable has been the civil engineer’s task. An outstanding example of this pioneering spirit is Mesa Verde National Park’s four prehistoric reservoirs.

For years, the National Park Service identified Mesa Verde’s Far View Reservoir site, formerly known as Mummy Lake, as either an ancient amphitheater or an unprecedented and innovative public works project. Inability to explain how the ancestral puebloans could engineer a water system capable of sustaining their society in such an arid environment meant that little credibility was given to the reservoir theory, until recently. The reservoirs have now been added to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) list of national Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (HCEL).

On Tuesday, September 26, 2004, Patricia D. Galloway P.E., F. ASCE, PMP, president of ASCE, along with Ken Wright, author of Water for the Anasazi: How the Ancients of Mesa Verde Engineered Public Works, and numerous others involved in the excavation and interpretation of the reservoirs, will attend a HCEL dedication ceremony.

“The Mesa Verde Reservoirs embody the ingenuity honored by the Historic Civil Engineering Landmark program,” said Galloway. “Without so much as written language, the ancestral puebloans that populated the river-less mesa top conquered the impossible by creating a water system to sustain their domestic and agricultural needs. They are truly civil engineering pioneers.”

Morefield, the largest and oldest of the reservoirs, measures 200 feet in diameter and rises 16 feet above the valley floor. Despite being built with only the most rudimentary tools, the reservoir was operational for nearly 350 years. Completed as early as 750 A.D., Morefield could have contained up to 120,000 gallons of water. Fifty years after its completion, the technology used to build Morefield was duplicated on an adjacent off-stream canyon bottom. The resulting reservoir, Box Elder, was operational for nearly 150 years.

The technology was again duplicated around 950 A.D., when ancestral puebloans living on the mesa tops created a water supply where, even by modern standards, it would seem improbable. The two reservoirs, Far View and Sagebrush, remained operational until around 1100 A.D., when a profound drought, which lead to the ultimate depopulation of the Mesa Verde area, struck. Though the reservoirs ultimately succumb to the region’s harsh elements, the knowledge gained from their construction and operation not only influenced the creation of other prehistoric systems in the area, but also the system of acequias discovered in the Rio Grande basin by Spanish explorers in the late 1500s.

Established in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park includes over 4,000 known archeological sites, and is the first and only cultural park in the National Park System. Mesa Verde was designated a “World Cultural Heritage Property” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on September 8, 1978.

The HCEL was created to recognize and encourage preservation of landmarks, as well as promote historical awareness of civil engineering both professionally and to the general public. The process by which sites are selected involves nomination by an ASCE section followed by an ASCE/HCEL committee review. Local, national and international landmark sites are eligible for nominations to HCEL status. In order to be selected as a historic landmark, the site must fit certain criteria. It must be of historic civil engineering significance, structurally or technically unique, at least 50 years old, accessible to the public and approved for HCEL status by the owner of the structure.

For more information about the Mesa Verde Reservoir dedication ceremony contact Joan Buhrman at 703-295-6406. Additional information about the HCEL program can be found at www.asce.org/history/.


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