BISMARCK, N.D. – Heart Butte Dam and Lake Tschida hold a rich history in
southwestern North Dakota, ranging from preventing flood damage and providing
vital crop irrigation, to being the only sizable body of water in the area
suitable for recreation.
The dam was constructed as part of the Heart Butte Unit of the Pick-Sloan
Missouri Basin Program that lies in scattered tracts along the Heart River
from Heart Butte Dam near Glen Ullin, N.D., to the Missouri River in
Bismarck, N.D. The Bureau of Reclamation completed construction of the dam in
1949, and the federally authorized purpose of the dam was for flood control
and irrigation; the same authorization stands today. The earthen dam is 142
feet in height and impounds the Heart River that eventually flows through
Mandan, N.D. and deposits near Bismarck, N.D.
The region was first occupied by ranchers, who settled along the streams and
used the public domain for grazing livestock. Large numbers of settlers came
during 1900-1910, and emphasis was placed upon the production of cash grain
crops. High prices and favorable rainfall encouraged grain farming, which
resulted in plowing extensive areas of rangeland, and overgrazing of the
remaining range. Although livestock continued to be important, the demand for
wheat during 1914-1920 brought about tremendous expansion in wheat acreage.
The drought years of the 1930`s and prevailing low prices seriously disrupted
the economy and led to emigration and abandonment of farms.
By 1942, the demands on agricultural production in the United States had
exceeded the ability of farms to produce, and farmers in the area were
developing an interest in crop irrigation. Damaging floods were recurring in
the Heart River Valley, particularly in Bismarck and Mandan, and along the
Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The President`s Great Plains Drought Area
Committee had prepared a report in 1936 stressing the need for conservation
of great plains resources and the conditions in the Heart River Valley
prompted a new detailed survey in 1942 by the Bureau of Reclamation and the
eventual construction of Heart Butte Dam in 1949.
Upon completion of the dam, the availability of irrigation water enabled the
transformation of suitable dry land to irrigated crop-producing land,
directly contributing to restoring the economic stability of the area.
Within a year of being constructed Heart Butte Dam and Lake Tschida had
already proved their flood control worth. In the spring of 1950, the newly
constructed Heart Butte Dam prevented a record flow of the Heart River from
flooding Mandan and Bismarck, N.D. Without the dam, the flow at Mandan would
have reached about 40,000 cubic feet per second and caused millions of
dollars in damage.
The ability of the dam, from the date of construction to present day, to hold
back and store flood water in Lake Tschida has prevented more than
$16-million in flood damages from occurring.
Recreation, Fish & Wildlife
With Lake Tschida being the only sizable body of water in the area for
recreation, it has become a popular recreation center. Picnicking, swimming,
boating, camping, water skiing activities occur in the summer. Fall and
winter activities include hunting, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and ice
skating. Designated areas along the shoreline of the reservoir have been
leased by the Boy Scouts and other organizations, and 238 sites for private
exclusive use for houses and trailers have been permitted. The more remote
areas are leased for agricultural uses.
Reclamation will keep the public updated on the upcoming improvements and
expected changes at the facility in the coming months.
For more information, please contact Patience Hurley at 701.221.1204.
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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier in the United States, and
the nation's second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Its facilities
also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife
benefits. Visit our website at http://www.usbr.gov.