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Economic and dam related articles

Timeline Traces Key Dates
in Idaho Water Development

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, May 21, 2014

This is an April 1913 photo of the construction of Arrowrock Dam on the Boise River. The dam, which cost $5 million, was 350 feet high and the highest dam in the world at the time of completion in October 1915. (photo: IDAHO STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY) 1800s

1836 - Henry H. Spalding establishes a mission near Lapwai where he develops Idaho's first irrigation system and grows the state's first potatoes.

1855 - The Nez Perce sign a treaty ceding lands to United States but retaining rights to hunt and fish.

1860 - Idaho's first permanent white settlement is established by a group of Mormons in Franklin.

1874 - Cattle ranchers Orville Buck and George Heath harvest grain and claim irrigation water rights in Willow Creek near Idaho Falls, establishing the oldest rights in the Upper Snake River Valley.

1877 - The National Desert Land Act passes Congress to "reclaim" land by irrigation. The Ridenbaugh Canal is started in Boise.

1894 - Congress passes the Carey Act, ceding up to 1 million acres to any Western state willing to undertake reclamation (irrigation) of the land. States can sell or give the land away. Idaho eventually becomes the most successful Carey Act state, developing nearly 630,000 acres of irrigated farmland.

1895 - The Legislature creates the Office of the State Engineer, precursor to the Idaho Department of Reclamation that is now the Department of Water Resources. The agency administers the first comprehensive irrigation law, for uniform use of public water.


1901 - The Swan Falls Dam is completed on the Snake River to provide power to mines in Silver City. The dam eventually becomes the first major power source for Idaho Power Co., organized in 1916.

1902 - The Reclamation Act allows for federal aid in construction of irrigation projects.

1903 - The first Carey Act land is distributed at Shoshone.

1905 - Ira B. Perrine starts the Twin Falls Land and Water Co. After it completes Milner Dam, the company delivers water to 260,000 acres on the south side of the Snake River. Four years later, in 1909, the Northside Project is completed, irrigating 170,000 acres.

1908 - The Minidoka Dam is completed near Rupert.

1909 - The New York Canal opens, carrying Boise River water to Treasure Valley farmers.

1910 - A judge issues the Rexburg Decree to determine water rights on the Snake River above Blackfoot.

1913 - The Foster Decree, another judicial decision, determines water rights from Blackfoot to Milner and expands state water master's authority to distribute water. This is the last legal sorting of rights on the Snake River until the Snake River Basin Adjudication begins in 1987.

1915 - Arrowrock Dam is completed on the Boise River near Boise.

1927 - American Falls Dam is completed on the Snake River.

1948 - Cascade Dam near Cascade is completed, and the Northside Pumping Division of the Minidoka Project is started.

1950 - Anderson Ranch Dam is completed on the South Fork of the Boise River.

1953 - C.J. Strike Dam is completed on the Snake River near Bruneau.

1955 - Idaho Power Co. begins to build its three Hells Canyon dams on the Snake River, Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon.

1956 - Lucky Peak Dam is finished on the Boise River near Boise.

1956 - Palisades Dam is finished on the Snake River east of Idaho Falls.

1959 - Brownlee Dam is finished.

1961 - Oxbow Dam is finished.

1968 - Hells Canyon Dam is finished.

1972 - Dworshak Dam is finished on the North Fork of the Clearwater River near Orofino.

1976 - The Teton Dam on the Teton River collapses the first time it's filled, killing 11 people and ending the federal dam building age in Idaho.

1983 - The Idaho Supreme Court rules on the Swan Falls case, declaring that Idaho Power has priority water rights at the dam dating to 1901.

1984 - Idaho Power and the state reach the Swan Falls agreement, setting a minimum stream flow on the Snake River to protect hydroelectric generation.

1985 - The Legislature accepts the Swan Falls agreement.

1987 - The Snake River Basin Adjudication begins, its goal to determine all water rights in the basin.

1991 - Idaho commits to leasing 427,000 acre-feet of southern Idaho reservoir water, enough to keep Shoshone Falls flowing at flood stage for 2-1/2 days, to flush endangered salmon to the Pacific Ocean. Flushes continue annually until 2001.

1992 - The state issues a moratorium on new water rights in the Snake River Basin upstream from Weiser.

1995 - The Legislature approves a management program that authorizes groundwater districts to jointly manage groundwater pumping. The law establishes a system where junior groundwater users can offset their effects on senior water users by purchasing water or paying them.


2001 - A groundwater district near American Falls works out an agreement to allow its farmers and the city of American Falls to keep pumping despite the legal demand of water users with superior rights calling on them to stop pumping.

2001 - Drought forces Idaho water users to use most reservoir water for irrigation, cutting leases for salmon migration for the first time in a decade.

2004 - A call or demand for water by a fish farmer threatens to force thousands of farmers, businesses and communities to stop pumping in south-central Idaho, triggering a crisis. The Legislature temporarily resolves it for a year.

2004 - Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe, the federal government and water users settle the tribe's water right claims.

2007 - The Idaho Supreme Court rules that the state has discretion in how it decides how its first-come, first-served doctrine is administered.

2007 - The state orders farmers to shut off water to 16,000 acres and prepares to carry out the order with state police until officials decide in July to await court rulings.

2012 - Trout farmers announce deals with the Magic Valley, North Snake, Bingham and American Falls-Aberdeen Ground Water Districts to transfer some trout farms and water rights to the groundwater districts for $30 million to resolve water calls.

2014 - The Legislature directs $5 million in cigarette tax revenues for aquifer-recharge projects.

Rocky Barker
Timeline Traces Key Dates in Idaho Water Development
Idaho Statesman, May 21, 2014

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