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Section 3, Chapter 8 -"Famous Potatoes" Agriculture & Irrigation

Chapter 8:
Water in Idaho
Mormon Settlements and the use of Water
Irrigation of the Snake River System
Snake River Plain Aquifer
The Growth of Agricultural Idaho
Early Irrigation Failures
Ira Burton Perrine
Minidoka Project
American Falls Dam
Irrigation of the Snake River Plain
The Swan Falls Controversy
The Teton Dam Disaster, June 5, 1976
Agriculture Today

Idaho and the Great Depression

Milner Dam, the fount of the Magic Valley, looking north, (July, 1989). The dam was begun in 1904 and finished in 1905. Note the dam is in the middle of a scabland swath cleaned of soil by the Lake Bonneville Flood. The Oregon Trail passed along the south side of the Snake River here and ruts are preserved in a Bureau of Land Management recreation site. The Twin Falls Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad runs south of the river. From north to south the arteries of Snake River water to irrigate the Magic Valley are the Milner-Gooding Canal, the North Side Canal, the Snake River in its canyon, the South Side Main or Twin Falls Canal, and heading south directly at the camera, the Milner Low Lift Main Canal. This was near the point where the Wilson Price Hunt Party in 1811 got into trouble in navigating the Snake River by boat. A few miles downstream, at Caldron Lynn, they gave up their river journey and set off on foot, headed for Fort Astoria.

Water in Idaho
One of the most important features of life in the intermountain area of the United States is water. Both because there is so little of it available and because water for agricultural uses must be stored in reservoirs or obtained from underground sources, the subject of water occupies the attention of many people. In water-short years, there is a real concern that there will not be enough to go around and that crops may suffer. Climatic patterns are cyclical. There are both drought years and wet years when winter snowfall has been adequate and spring rains have soaked into fields and watersheds. Water is a matter of constant concern.

.State law mandates that the slogan "Famous Potatoes" appear on standard Idaho automobile license plates!

Idaho contains parts of three major drainage basins: the Salmon River and other tributaries of the Columbia in the mountainous northern part, the Bear River and Great Salt Lake in the southeast, and the Snake River, which is the lifeblood of the agriculture in southern Idaho. Northern Idaho has a wetter climate and the need for water storage is much less essential. In the south, the weather is warmer and drier. Water storage is absolutely necessary.

The fur trappers were little bothered with water resources. As long as beaver could build dams in the forested areas, trappers were mainly unconcerned with how much moisture fell during the year.

As the Pioneers of the Oregon and California Trails passed through southern Idaho, they were appalled by the dust, the lack of water and the obvious hostility of the land. They hurried past, expressing doubt that the vast desert wilderness would ever support civilization, much less irrigated agriculture. It is wonderful irony how wrong they were.