Moran Dam

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Moran Dam
Moran Dam is located in Canada
Moran Dam
Location of the proposed dam in Canada
Country Canada
Location Near Lillooet, British Columbia
Coordinates 50°55′26″N 121°52′11″W / 50.92389°N 121.86972°W / 50.92389; -121.86972Coordinates: 50°55′26″N 121°52′11″W / 50.92389°N 121.86972°W / 50.92389; -121.86972
Status Proposed
Construction began 1955
Opening date Never
Construction cost US$ 4.15 billion[n 1] (projected)
Dam and spillways
Type of dam Concrete thick arch
Impounds Fraser River
Height 261 m (856 ft)[2]
Length 950 m (3,120 ft)[n 2]
Total capacity 35.4 km3 (28,700,000 acre⋅ft)[4]
Catchment area 146,500 km2 (56,600 sq mi)[n 3]
Maximum length 260 km (160 mi)[1]
Normal elevation 460 m (1,510 ft)[n 4]
Power Station
Hydraulic head

220 m (720 ft)[6]

Moran Dam
Moran Dam is located in Canada
Moran Dam
Location of Moran Dam
Country Canada
Power generation
Nameplate capacity 14,000 MW[2]
Capacity factor 23.97%[n 5]
Annual output 30 billion KWh[n 6]

Moran Dam, also called High Moran Dam or Moran Canyon Dam, was a 1950s proposal to dam the Fraser River in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC). The structure was planned in the wake of devastating floods in a time of rapidly growing power demand, and if built, would have powered the largest hydroelectric facility in North America. After a protracted environmental battle, Moran Dam was defeated in 1972, mainly over concerns of its adverse impact on salmon populations in the Fraser River basin. The shelving of the project also influenced cancellation of other hydro developments along the river, and today the Fraser remains one of the most productive salmon fisheries on the continent.


As early as 1934, the Moran Canyon site was identified as an excellent location for a large hydroelectric dam.[10] During the dam-building era of the mid-20th century,[11] up to five major hydropower projects were proposed on the main stem of the Fraser River. The largest of these, a dam near the railway point of Moran, some 20 kilometres (12 mi) upstream of Lillooet, was put forth by the Moran Development Corporation (MDC).[12] This American firm put forth US$500 million in 1952 to finance the construction of the dam, which would have been the tallest in the world.[1] The Fraser River was favoured over other large rivers in BC, such as the Columbia or Peace, because of its relative proximity to urban centres like Vancouver.[13]

The dam would have been 261 metres (856 ft) high, generating as much power on average as Grand Coulee Dam and two Hoover Dams combined. Much of this energy would have been sold to the northwestern United States.[2] It would form a gigantic reservoir 260 kilometres (160 mi) long, containing some 35.4 cubic kilometres (28,700,000 acre⋅ft) of water at maximum pool,[4] reaching almost to the city of Quesnel.[1] A significant portion of this capacity would be reserved for flood control as the dam had been proposed in the wake of major floods that occurred just three years before then, in 1948.[14] The BC government gave MDC clearance to begin preliminary work at the site in 1955. However, MDC lacked the funds to build such a gigantic dam and to acquire all the lands that would be flooded under the reservoir, and a rival company, BC Electric (today part of BC Hydro), acquired similar rights to the site that same year.[15]

Controversy and defeat[edit]

Moran Dam's tremendous height would make artificial fish passage nearly impossible, and would thus cut off a large portion of the Fraser's prodigious runs of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout.[6] During the later 1950s and 1960s, determined opposition from environmentalists including Roderick Haig-Brown,[17] fishermen and others stalled the project, citing that the dam would block access to over 70% of anadromous fish spawning habitat in the Fraser basin. In addition, it would cause losses of up to 50% of catches along the main stem Fraser and its delta below the dam because of sediment blockage, water temperature changes, and flow fluctuations.[18] The defeat of the dam project, which had one of the largest power potentials of any in North America, uniquely occurred during the height of the continent's dam-building era, before determined environmentalist opposition towards dams such as at New Melones, twenty years later.[11][n 7]

In 1970, BC Hydro released a report that predicted annual provincial rises in power consumption of over 10 percent. As a result, the proposed dam project was briefly revived, to the point at which test bores were made at the site in May of that year.[18][19] After continuing concern over what the dam would do to the Fraser's salmon runs, the Moran Dam was defeated again in 1972.[20] The downfall of the Moran project led to decreased call for power generation on the Fraser River, as Moran would have been the key facility for that matter.[2] If Moran Dam had been built, the vast construction could open much of the Fraser River for development, to the point where it might have even ended up like the dam-straitjacketed Columbia River.[2] Today, despite its alluring hydroelectric potential, the Fraser River remains one of the longest undammed rivers in North America and one of the continent's most productive salmon fisheries.[2][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adjusted for inflation from a figure of $500 million[1] in 1952 dollars.
  2. ^ Measured along the 460 m contour on Canadian topo maps of the Fraser River canyon at the site assuming a straight-axis construction.[3]
  3. ^ Catchment area is estimated from the Water Survey of Canada's "Fraser River at Big Bar Creek" gauge on the Fraser River, the closest one (about 30 km (19 mi) upstream) to the Moran Dam site with a drainage area measurement.[5]
  4. ^ The elevation of the river at the dam site is 240 m (790 ft).[3] The maximum depth of the reservoir would be 220 m (720 ft).[6]
  5. ^ Calculated from the average annual production of 30 billion KWh.
  6. ^ Amount[7] estimated by adding the net annual generation of Grand Coulee Dam (21 billion KWh[8]) with twice the annual generation of Hoover Dam (8.4 billion KWh[9]).
  7. ^ During the 1950s, there was also a fight over the proposed Echo Park Dam in Utah in the United States, perhaps one of the most famous dam controversies of all time. However, the conflict was mainly because said dam would have been inside the Dinosaur National Monument. The Moran Dam site was not federally protected, nor was wilderness.

Works cited[edit]

  • Evenden, Matthew Dominic (2004). Fish versus power: an environmental history of the Fraser River. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83099-0. 
  • Lichatowich, Jim; Lichatowich, James A. (2001). Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis. Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-361-1. 
  • McGillivray, Brett (2000). Geography of British Columbia: people and landscapes in transition. UBC Press. ISBN 0-7748-0785-7. 


  1. ^ a b c d Nanton, Isabel (1999-10-09). "World's Biggest Dam Once Proposed for BC: The plan put forward by U.S. financiers in 1952 called for a 270-metre-high dam at Moran Canyon on the Fraser River". Vancouver Sun. Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ferguson, John W.; Healey, Michael; Dugan, Patrick; Barlow, Chris (2009-09-17). "Potential Effects of Dams on Migratory Fish in the Mekong River: Lessons from Salmon in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers" (PDF). College of Natural Resources. University of Idaho. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  3. ^ a b CTIO Topo Maps for Canada (Map). Cartography by Natural Resources Canada Centre for Topographic Information. ACME Mapper. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  4. ^ a b Evenden, p. 214
  5. ^ "HYDAT Database Text Search: Fraser River". Water Survey of Canada. Environment Canada. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  6. ^ a b c Bengeyfield, W.; et al. (June 2001). "Evaluation of Restoring Historic Passage for Anadromous Fish at BC Hydro Facilities" (PDF). BC Hydro. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  7. ^ "Hydropower in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers: a contrast in approaches to fisheries protection". Fisheries Research and Development in the Mekong Region. Mekong River Commission For Sustainable Development. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  8. ^ "Grand Coulee Powerplant". Grand Coulee Dam. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 2010-12-20. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  9. ^ Mcintyre, Douglas (2011-03-23). "How to Pay Down the Federal Deficit: Sell America's Icons, Assets and Gold?". DailyFinance. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  10. ^ Evenden, p. 186
  11. ^ a b Quinn, Frank. "Dams and Diversions". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  12. ^ Evenden, p. 183
  13. ^ Evenden, p. 192
  14. ^ McGillivray, p. 160
  15. ^ Evenden, p. 193
  16. ^ Lichatowich and Lichatowich, p. 196
  17. ^ Hume, Mark (2005-04-03). "Roderick Haig-Brown: Before Greenpeace, before Suzuki, he defined conservationist" (PDF). Bell Globemedia. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  18. ^ a b "The campaign against the Moran Dam created an awareness that helped people to understand the threat to fish posed by Kemano II" (PDF). The Fisherman. Fisheries Center. 1995-06-26. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  19. ^ Mair, Rafe (2005-07-18). "Questions about Power in BC: Offered here, a handful of dots that may, or may not, connect". The Tyee. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  20. ^ "History of Conservation: Important events which have led to salmon conservation in British Columbia". BC Heritage Digital Collections. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  21. ^ Careless, Ric (February 2005). "Lillooet-Lytton Tourism Diversification Project" (PDF). Wilderness Tourism Association. BC Spaces for Nature. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 

External links[edit]