Irrigation of the Snake River

Driving through Eastern Idaho, you pass what seems like an endless stretch of large green farms, often with massive sprinklers spreading thousands of gallons of water over dozens of different types of crops. However, this land only recently became like this. Before the 1900’s, this part of Idaho was a mix between a desert and grassy plains, better suited for grazing a few animals than farming. By the beginning of the 20th century, homesteaders began spreading across the entire country, and needed to farm to survive and earn money. While the nearby Snake River provides water, the water comes too fast during the spring, with the winter run off flooding large sections of farmland. During the fall, not enough water reaches the farmland to sustain the crops and the crops die before the harvest. In 1902, with the passing of the Newlands Reclamation Act, the Federal Government, under Theodore Roosevelt, set aside money to create dams and irrigation canals across the US in order to store the water and allow more people to farm successfully. The main project that affected this area of the Snake River was the Minidoka project. It entailed the Minidoka, American Falls, Jackson Lake, Island Park, and Grassy Lakes Dam. The Palisades Dam and the Teton Dam were completed in separate projects much after the completion of the original five dams. The Minidoka Camp was originally an outpost for reclamation workers, and was converted into an internment camp for a few years during World War 2. The creation of these dams mirror the further settling of Eastern Idaho. As the dams were completed, hundreds of thousands more people moved to Idaho to begin farming the now irrigated land. This tour tells the story of the creation of these dams and illustrates the story of the settling of the Snake River Plain.

Minidoka Dam and Lake Walcott

Located between the city of Minidoka and Highway 86, this dam and its corresponding lake provide water for most of the surrounding area. It serves as an oasis for nearby fauna and provides fishing and boating for local residents. The small island…

The Jackson Lake Dam and Creating a Community

In 1907, after the success of the Minidoka Dam, construction began for a new dam on the Snake River in Wyoming. Benjamin Sheffield, who ran the Teton Lodge near where the dam is presently located, suggested the dam to the reclamation service to help…

The American Falls Dam and Moving a Town

The idea for the American Falls dam began after the success of the nearby Minidoka Dam led to better farmland and increased population. In 1908, limited testing of a dam site began, and a decade later, in 1918, geological investigations began that…

The Grassy Lake Dam and Casualty of Compromise

While this dam is fairly small compared to the nearby Jackson Lake, the creation of this dam was quite dramatic. In 1919, after working on the Jackson Lake dam, proposals were made for another dam in the Bechler Meadows. This was an attempt to use…

The Island Park Dam and Compromise of Conservation

Located on the western edge of Yellowstone, this dam had a very controversial beginning. A few dams in this area had been planned in the late 1910's, after the success of the Minidoka Dam. However, these plans were put on hold as…

Japanese American Internment in the Minidoka Camp

On February 19, 1942, in response to Pearl Harbor and rising anti-Japanese sentiments in the United States, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the creation of military exclusion zones and to relocated all…

The Bursting of the Teton Dam

Finished in 1976, this dam is well known for its catastrophic failure and the subsequent flooding of Eastern Idaho. Following years of alternating droughts and flooding, the Bureau of Reclamation proposed the created of a dam in 1963 to help…

The Palisades Dam

The largest dam in the area, the Palisades dam was build long after the other dams were completed. After the success of the American Falls, Minidoka, and Jackson Dam, the Bureau of Reclamation realized that most of the dams supplied water to farmers…
Sources:

Bureau of Reclamation, from Projects and Facilities. “Minidoka Project,” available at
https://www.usbr.gov/projects/index.php?id=361

Stene, Eric A. Minidoka Project. Report. Bureau of Reclamation. 1997. Available at
https://www.usbr.gov/projects/pdf.php?id=137