Missouri Basin Flood Control Plan
Friday, December 22, 2006
A union that would go down in history was forged on this day in 1944, in what Farmers Union president James Patton called a “shameless, loveless shotgun wedding.” This was the marriage of two separate Missouri River flood control plans conceived by Bureau of Reclamation Engineer Glenn Sloan and Army Corps of Engineers’ Colonel Lewis Pick. This marriage would later give birth to the Garrison Dam and other dams. The dams, however, were not the only projects conceived from the Flood Control Plan of 1944; the plan also increased interest in Missouri River diversion projects.
One such plan was the transfer of Missouri River water to central and eastern North Dakota. Even before the dam was completed, advocates of the diversion were pushing the plan ahead. Yet, the plans were by no means new. As early as 1889, a convention was held in Grand Forks to take preliminary steps in the construction of a canal from the Missouri River in Montana, across North Dakota and to the Red River. The plan was found infeasible, but it was not forgotten.
In 1920, plans again were made to divert water, this time by the Missouri River Diversion Association. The Association was made up largely of Devils Lake residents who wished to provide water for the replenishment of Devils Lake and the rivers and streams in eastern and central North Dakota. The Association was so successful in advocating the plan that North Dakota State Legislature appropriated $50,000 in 1925 and 1927 for the investigation of the feasibility of such a project. Interest over the years only increased with the onset of the drought and devastating floods in the 1940s. The Garrison Dam was completed in 1955, and attention was turned to further development of diversion.
Yet, even while such plans went ahead to divert water to central and eastern North Dakota in 1955, other areas in Ramsey County were looking to divert water away from them. Through seven of the past ten years, farmers had experienced severe flooding from heavy rainfall and Plans were already underway to drain about 2,000 acres of flooded farm land in the Lake Alice and Lake Irvine area in Ramsey County. Officials also sought to provide protection for additional land in times of high water. The plan was conceived by the joint efforts of the State Water Conservation Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan called for a 14-foot wide, three foot deep canal to be built between the two lakes to equalize them. A dike and flood control gates were to be built at Lake Alice to permit the lowering of the level of water above the dike. The water commission was also investigating nearby Rock Lake and Hurricane Lake, which were contributing to the flooding.
Over fifty years later, problems continue in Ramsey County as Devil’s Lake continues to gobble up land, and still, advocates of diversion are pushing to divert water from the Missouri to the Red River. North Dakota has made giant strides in water development, but as quarrels continue over how to best solve the problems, it is evident Mark Twain was correct when he stated, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”
By Tessa Sandstrom
“First Plan for Missouri Diversion proposed in ’89,” The Devils Lake World. Feb. 2, 1955: 8.
“Approve plan for drainage in flood area,” The Devils Lake World. Dec. 29, 1954: 1.
VanDevelder, Paul. Coyote Warrior. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.