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Missouri River Development


Efforts to develop the Missouri River seriously began with a proposal to divert water to Devils Lake. This effort was strongly encouraged with various meetings and conferences beginning in 1926, but it was not until the downstream states could be convinced to join the effort that there could be any serious work done. As clouds of dirt swept the Plains in the 1930s, the lack of water for irrigation stressed the need to develop an adequate reserve for the dry years, but by the late 1930s the rains had returned, somewhat muting this concern. However, in the winter of 1942-43, heavy snow blanketed the north, and as these snows melted, record flooding devastated wide areas along the Missouri River, revitalizing ideas to somehow manage this huge watershed.

On this date in 1943, a series of meetings of the Missouri River states took place in which Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska all decided to support a Missouri River development project. The states of Kansas and Missouri were also to meet later in the week, and North Dakota representatives were encouraged that there was a renewed prospect of gaining support from downstream states.

The representatives from other states cited the need to prevent floods and to provide water for irrigation as key points in providing a series of dams on the Missouri River, and the conference in Nebraska even touted the need to provide dams on tributary streams.

North Dakota representatives Kenneth Simons, Harry Polk and Halvor Halvorson were impressed with the fact that only the cities of Omaha and Sioux City expressing concerns about the need for navigation, while the rest of Iowa and Nebraska opposed that point.

Unlike the newly emerging plan, previous efforts to develop the Missouri River had been very piecemeal with mainly regional concerns and smaller dams that would do little to prevent flooding or provide adequate pools for irrigation. The new series of meeting would eventually culminate in uniting a plan by the US Corps of Engineers for flood control and navigation with a plan by the US Bureau of Reclamation that included irrigation, fisheries, hydroelectric power and recreation. Called the Pick-Sloan Plan, it passed in Congress as the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944.

Eventually, most elements of the plan were developed. Opinions vary as to what was lost and gained by a tamed Missouri River, but even now, the Big Muddy occasionally manages a small roar.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

The Bismarck Tribune August 25, 1943