Dakota Datebook: Garrison Diversion

Dakota Datebook: Garrison Diversion
October 21st, 2008


For North Dakota there were a lot of dreams depending upon the Missouri River Diversion. As far back as 1890 there was talk of diverting water from the Mouse River or the Missouri River into Devils Lake to raise the level of the lake to allow steamboats on the lake to return to the early railroad docks, but this never came to pass. In the 1920s, Sivert Thompson resurrected the idea to divert water to restore and maintain a dying lake, so by 1926 the Missouri River diversion had become a lively topic again. The counties in the eastern part of the state backed the plan as they eyed the black clouds of dust drifting over the Northern Plains that settled into the river valleys, choking off what few feeder creeks were left to fill the river bottoms. The tributaries to the Red River dried up. Western counties in the state were enticed with a promise of massive irrigation projects that were planned along the Missouri using the stored water.

When the Depression hit in the late 1920s and stretched into the ‘30s, large-scale projects, such as the Missouri River Diversion, were set aside while multiple, smaller WPA and CCC projects were implemented to provide work for a larger numbers of workers in local communities.

Nearing the end of World War II, America was prosperous and other irrigation projects and dams had been proven successful, so the Pick-Sloan Plan of 1944 was adopted under the Flood Control Act. The Missouri Basin Interagency Committee was organized the following year. On this date in 1947, the Missouri Basin Interagency Committee met in Bismarck to discuss progress on the various aspects of the projects. A comment made at the time proved to be prophetic. With nearly a half-dozen Federal agencies involved in the project along with ten states in the Missouri River Valley, one participant at the meeting compared the possibility of success to an automobile plant where each craftsman at the plant was asked to submit his own plan. Regardless of how it fit into the whole scheme, each craftsman could decide to go ahead with his individual plan independent of the others. The only trouble with that approach was that it would never produce a car. For North Dakota’s part, few of the promised rewards ever materialized and for the years Sivert Thompson labored with the project not one drop of Missouri River water would ever flow into his precious lake.

By Jim Davis
The Bismarck Capital October 21, 1947


Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public. (2008) http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies, Science

Related Media

  1. Through the Lens:Construction of the Garrison Dam
    Video: Footage of the building of Garrison Dam, one of the largest construction projects to ever be completed in North Dakota.
  2. Red River Land: Building the Garrison Dam: Part 1 of 2
    Video: A 1960s educational film about the reasons for the construction of the Garrison Dam.
  3. Red River Land: Building the Garrison Dam: Part 2 of 2
    Video: A 1960s educational film about the reasons for constructing the Garrison Dam.
  4. Dakota Datebook: Name Change
    Audio: The history of how the Garrison Reservoir became known as Lake Sakakawea.
  5. Dakota Datebook: Mrs. Byron Wilde
    Audio: Anna Wilde was a Native American activist who wanted a "square deal" for the tribes being relocated when the Garrison Dam was built.
  6. Dakota Datebook: The Two Sanishes
    Audio: When the Garrison Dam was built the people of Sanish, a town in the flood plain, decided to form New Sanish.
  7. More Precious Than Gold: Garrison Dam
    Video: Some see the Garrison Dam project as a great success, some see it as a great failure.
  8. More Precious Than Gold: Garrison Diversion
    Video: The diversion at the Garrison Dam was supposed to provide irrigation for agriculture.
  9. Prairie Pulse: The Promise of Water
    Video: A look at landscape photographer Wayne Gudmundson's book on the Garrison Diversion Project titled, "The Promise of Water"