Dess Chappelear was assistant project manager during construction of Central Arizona Project.

Des Chappelear: The importance of water

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

As a young boy in southwestern Oklahoma, Des Chappelear couldn’t tell a rain cloud from a dust cloud, but he knew the importance of water. In fact, one of the things that helped his family through the Great Depression was water.

His father had experience drilling oil wells as a young man, so during the Depression, he bought a set of cables and used that knowledge to drill water wells.

“He could go out and drill water wells for a dollar a foot for the first hundred feet and a dollar and a half for the next hundred,” said Chappelear. “That helped tide us over during the Depression days.”

And his dry environment also made him realize he needed to find a career that wasn’t dependent on abundant rainfall, so he got his degree in civil engineering. And after a few years in the U.S. Air Force, he was looking for a job.

“With my Air Force experience, Boeing made me several offers, but I looked at them and said gee, they’re dependent upon these military contracts and things of that nature, and I didn’t think I wanted the ups and downs of that,” said Chappelear. “So then I decided gee, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is good solid work, and so I went to work for them.”

His work with BOR sent him to Oklahoma, Texas and finally to Washington, D.C., where he worked in the Division of Water and Land and met Dick Shunick, the project manager for Central Arizona Project. So when Shunick was looking for an assistant project manager, Chappelear got the job.

“It was just a great challenging job and I certainly enjoyed it,” Chappelear said.

Read Dess Chappelear's Oral History Transcript
Listen to Dess Chappelear's Interview