Dick Shunick was an engineer who worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior, serving as the Project Manager for Central Arizona Project.

Dick Shunick: Leading construction of CAP

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

As a young engineer, Illinois native Dick Shunick decided to head west. His destination was a job with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) in Boulder City, Nevada. He didn’t know it then, but he would spend the next 30 years in civil service, culminating with his final role: Project Manager for Central Arizona Project.

After five years in Boulder City, he headed to Phoenix where he was doing power scheduling and water scheduling. He arrived in 1954, when authorization of Central Arizona Project was frequently talked about, and Shunick did a lot of work to support hearings about CAP in Washington, D.C.

In 1959, he took a position with the BOR in Washington, D.C. where he spent the next 12 years. But he always knew he wanted to go back to Phoenix. In 1971, Shunick became the Project Manager for Central Arizona Project.

“We finally got construction underway in ’73, then the story from there was just a matter of getting annual funding and proceeding,” Shunick said. “The CAP, you know, is the largest water resource project ever authorized by Congress at one time. We spent 20 years building it.”

Construction was complicated. Moving water 336 miles across the state isn’t easy. But Shunick lead a team of construction professionals who made it happen; boring the seven-mile Buckskin Mountain Tunnel and fine-tuned engineering that allowed the water to be lifted 2900 feet and flow by gravity through the system. But the biggest challenge?

“Getting the goodwill of the people, the environmentalists,” said Shunick. “And a lot of people thought it would never work because of the magnitude of it and so on.”

Shunick retired in in 1980, five years before the first water deliveries, but looks back on his career with pride.

“I had a very enjoyable career,” Shunick said. “I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Read Richard Shunick's Oral History Transcript
Listen to Richard Shunick's Interview