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A Threat to North Dakota


The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State is the largest dam in the Columbia River Basin, and one of the largest in the world. When the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, the dam was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s public works projects. The Roosevelt Administration pursued public works to help the national recovery and, in the case of dams, provide for power generation to help pay for the project. The Grand Coulee dam met those tests. It provided hundreds of jobs and a source of electricity to help jumpstart the economy.

It is hard to see how a dam in Washington could be considered a threat to North Dakota, but on this date in 1939, an article in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican said exactly that. The article was written by Kenneth W. Simons, the chairman of the Irrigation Committee of the North Dakota State Water Commission. Simons said the Grand Coulee Dam and the development that would grow up around it were a threat to North Dakota due to a Federal Government proposal to move thousands of North Dakotans to the Columbia River Basin in anticipation of the boom that would follow the completion of the dam.

Thousands of North Dakota farmers had struggled during the Depression – Simons estimated that 26,000 were failing. The Farm Security Administration provided loans to aid them, but loans were no answer for drought, grasshoppers, and rust.

Simons said the federal proposal to relocate North Dakotans to Washington State would mean the end of many small North Dakota communities. He said the only answer was to expand irrigation in North Dakota. He noted an effort to irrigate the river-bottom south of Bismarck. Other communities along the Missouri were also interested in irrigation. And people along the Heart and Little Missouri rivers were equally concerned, anxious for progress through irrigation. Simon urged the legislators in Bismarck to take action immediately on irrigation to help keep those families on their farms.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


The Northwest Council. “Grand Coulee Dam: History and Purpose.” "http://www.nwcouncil.org/history/grandcouleehistory" http://www.nwcouncil.org/history/grandcouleehistory Accessed 5 May, 2016.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Grand Coulee Dam Said N.D. Irrigation Threat.” 10 June, 1939.