The Minidoka Dam’s history seems almost as long as its 2,237 foot long concrete pier and spillway. Talk of building the dam in south-central Idaho to help early settlers do more than just scratch out a living goes back to the 1880’s, but finally came to fruition after Teddy Roosevelt signed The Newlands Reclamation Act in 1902, which allowed the federal government to set aside money from the sale of semi-arid public lands for the construction and maintenance of irrigation projects. Construction of the Minidoka dam soon followed in 1904 and was completed in 1907.
But by 2010, after 103 years of operation, the dam was beginning to show its age. Actually, it had begun to show its age decades prior, and was in desperate need of repair. The once neatly chamfered corners of the concrete stop log piers were now so badly spalled, some looked more oval in shape. And the stop logs – by the hundreds – proved to be an ongoing maintenance pain, literally for the dam maintenance workers who had to physically lug them up 10 to 15 feet by hand every time the dam’s flow or lake level had to be adjusted.
In May of 2015, USDA Rural Development, US Bureau of Reclamation, and the Minidoka Irrigation District celebrated the reopening of the Minidoka Spillway. Thanks to hours of planning, hard work, and commitment from several funding partners of over $21.3 million (including a $7,550,000 Loan from USDA-RD Community Facilities), construction was completed to replace the old pier and stop log structure with a new concrete spillway and mechanically operated control gates that will hopefully add another 100 years plus to the life of the dam that is so vital to irrigation and the economy of the rural communities the district serves. After all, it was this dam that transformed the once sagebrush covered land, like magic, into bountiful farmland and helped give the valley its name. Today the Minidoka project irrigates over a million acres of productive land – land that should help the rural communities in the area to thrive throughout its second century of service.