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Hot Winds and Cooked Shrubbery

2/15/2016:

On this date in 1935, the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican reported water flowing over the lower dam on the Red River. Since Minnesota had not released water from reservoirs, it was clear that the high water was a result of snowmelt. City Engineer W.P. Tarbell reported that both reservoirs were full. Those familiar with Red River floods might think this news would have made North Dakotans nervous. On the contrary, they considered this good news. 1934 had been a year of searing drought with barely one inch of rain per month. A second dry year could ruin North Dakota farmers. They were heartened by the good news, but didn’t take it for granted, and were taking steps to stave off disaster.

Many farmers planned individual irrigation projects. The newspaper noted that irrigation had a history of being successful in North Dakota. Farmers saw irrigation as the answer that would help them produce enough to make up for the previous year’s poor harvest. The state penitentiary planned an irrigation project that would draw one million gallons of water per day from the Missouri river to irrigate a 200 acre tract. To sustain livestock in the western part of the state, rancher were drilling wells where the groundwater was close enough to the surface. The farmers and ranchers hoped these measures would be enough to help them recover from the disastrous year they had just suffered.

The farmers were wise not to take the water flowing in the Red for granted. While it was a good omen for 1935, a year of sufficient water, 1936 returned to the pattern of drought. There is a tendency to lump the entire decade of the 1930s together as the “dirty 30s.” But the decade was not one long period of unrelenting dust storms and drought. Most of the damage came in just two years, 1934 and 1936. The 1935 precautions did help, but farmers and ranchers still had 1936 suffer through – another year of what one North Dakotan called “hot winds and cooked shrubbery.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, 15 February, 1935

“Irrigation Plans Mapped to Meet Drought in North Dakota”

“Water is Flowing Over Lower Dam in Red River”

North Dakota State University. “The Drought of the 1930s.” "https://www.ndsu.edu/ndscoblog/?p=626" https://www.ndsu.edu/ndscoblog/?p=626 Accessed 11 January, 2016.