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New intake straw at Lake Mead up for prestigious engineering award

Engineers can't seem to get enough of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's new straw at Lake Mead.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the $817 million intake project as one of six finalists for its annual award for the world's most outstanding civil engineering achievement.

"This is like the Oscars for civil engineering, and we're up for best motion picture," water authority spokesman Bronson Mack said. "This is an honor for us as an agency and certainly an honor for those who participated in the project."

The third intake was built to draw from the bottom of Lake Mead and keep water flowing to the Las Vegas Valley even if the reservoir should shrink low enough to shut down the two older straws used to deliver 90 percent of the community's water.

Construction began in 2008 and involved excavating a 20-foot-tall tunnel beneath the bottom of the nation's largest man-made reservoir and connecting it to a buried concrete intake structure poking up from the lake bed 3 miles from shore.

The intake begin delivering water to the valley in late September.

Other finalists for the prestigious engineering award include the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge across the Mississippi River in St. Louis; a dragon-shaped bridge in Danang, Vietnam; a highway interchange in Albuquerque, N.M.; a seismic retrofit on a crucial water distribution line in the San Francisco Bay Area; and a literal bridge to nowhere in Alaska, although not the "Bridge to Nowhere" made famous during the 2008 presidential election.

The award dates to 1960. Previous winners include the Glen Canyon Dam, the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the World Trade Center.

The Hoover Dam bypass bridge won in 2012. The project that produced the authority's River Mountains Water Treatment Facility and second Lake Mead intake was a finalist in 2004, but lost out to the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston.

This year's winner will be announced at a gala in Arlington, Va., on March 17.

Meanwhile, work is underway on what could be the authority's next nominee: a $650 million deep-water pump station near the shore of Lake Mead that will allow the new intake to draw more than 900 million gallons of water a day from the depths of the lake using 36 submersible pumps, each capable of filling a backyard swimming pool in about 20 seconds.

Mack said the contractor has completed the first 100 feet of an access shaft that will extend 525 feet underground.

The project is expected to be finished in about five years, just in time for the 2021 awards.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow him: @RefriedBrean

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