Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wickiup Dam

Oregon, with all its streams and rivers, was a major focus for government investment during the 20th century. Hydroelectric dams, like Bonneville or John Day, get most of attention, but other major projects developed by the Army Corps of Engineers or the Bureau of Reclamation focused on flood control, recreation or irrigation. Given the typically effusive names of the era, the "Willamette Project" consists of a series of about 15 separate dams that were designed to control flow in that basin, mostly for flood control. The stories of the streams breaching their banks as late as the 1930s and 1940s are pretty amazing.

On the other side of the Cascades, storing water for irrigation offered the potential of huge agricultural development in an area that lacked an economy. The Wickiup Dam, one of the first elements of the "Deschutes Project" (there are those creative Feds again) was built west of La Pine beginning in the late 1930s by the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. That's the water outlet construction, in a National Archives image (See, I told you can find all sorts of things on the Internet). When the irrigation canal was finally thrown open, in 1946, it was a cause for huge celebration. "The joyous welcome to the water, which theoretically came from the 180,000 acre foot Wickiup reservoir more than 100 south of Madras, opened at 11:00 am with a parade at the Madras airbase, where Queen Evelyn Kelley and her court served as royal hostesses" effused the Bend Bulletin. Jefferson County sure knew how to throw a party.

Today the Wickiup Dam is still operated on behalf of the US Government by the Bureau of Reclamation. As a part of a project that is considering the viability of a low-power, seasonal, generation facility that could be constructed at the Dam, we are evaluating whether or not the Wickiup Dam and Reservoir should be considered historically significant. Should be interesting to learn more about how this project developed, and how it changed Central Oregon.

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