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Garrison Diversion


For North Dakota there were a lot of dreams depending upon the Missouri River Diversion. As far back as 1890 there was talk of diverting water from the Mouse River or the Missouri River into Devils Lake to raise the level of the lake for the purpose of allowing for the steamboats on the lake to return to the early railroad docks, but this never came to pass. In the 1920's, Sivert Thompson resurrected the idea to divert water to restore and maintain a dying lake, so by 1926 the Missouri River diversion had become a lively topic again. The counties in the eastern part of the state backed the plan as they eyed the black clouds of dust drifting over the Northern Plains that settled into the river valleys, choking off what few feeder creeks were left to fill the river bottoms. The tributaries to the Red River dried up. Western counties in the state were enticed with a promise of massive irrigation projects that were planned along the Missouri using the stored water.

When the Depression hit in the late 1920s and stretched into the '30s, large scale projects, such as the Missouri River Diversion, were set aside while multiple, smaller WPA and CCC projects were implemented to provide work for a larger numbers of workers in local communities.

Nearing the end of World War II, America was prosperous and other irrigation projects and dams had been proven successful, so the Pick Sloan Plan of 1944 was adopted under the Flood Control Act. The Missouri Basin Interagency Committee was organized the following year. On this date in 1947, the Missouri Basin Interagency Committee met in Bismarck to discuss progress on the various aspects of the projects. A comment made at the time proved to be prophetic. With nearly a half dozen Federal agencies involved in the project along with ten states in the Missouri River Valley, one participant at the meeting compared the possibility of success to an automobile plant where each craftsman at the plant was asked to submit his own plan. Regardless of how it fit into the whole scheme, each craftsman could decide to go ahead with his individual plan independent of the others. The only trouble with that approach was that it would never produce a car. For North Dakota's part, few of the promised rewards ever materialized and for the years Sivert Thompson labored with the project not one drop of Missouri River water would ever flow into his precious lake.

By Jim Davis


The Bismarck Capital October 21, 1947