by Brian Zylstra | August 20th, 2012
(Photo courtesy of Washington State Archives)
As we’ve done since January, we’re featuring three rare, interesting or just plain cool items or collections found in our State Archives. The first of the three “Archives treasures” for August is the collection of records and photos for the Columbia Basin Commission, which was tasked with overseeing the Columbia Basin Reclamation Project. Learn more about the project here.
According to Archives staff, the commission’s records include minutes, correspondence, subject files, maps, drawings, rate schedules, and reports. In 1903, the United States Bureau of Reclamation made a reconnaissance survey of the Columbia Basin to determine the feasibility of transferring water from the Pend Oreille River in Idaho to the basin. On July 18, 1918, the first proposal to build a dam at the Grand Coulee on the Columbia River for irrigation of the basin lands was published, and in 1919 the Washington State Legislature created the Columbia Basin Survey Commission and appropriated $100,000 for its work. By 1932, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation reported in favor of building a high dam at the Grand Coulee for irrigation of the basin and for the generation of hydroelectric power. In 1933, the Legislature created the Columbia Basin Commission to replace the Survey Commission and to secure the construction of the Columbia Basin Project. In 1935, the Grand Coulee Project was adopted and approved by Congress and by 1941, the Grand Coulee Dam was completed and began to generate electricity.
Go here to see the PBS/American Experience feature on the building of Grand Coulee Dam.
The Columbia Basin Commission, lacking funds to operate from 1937 to 1942, was reconstituted by the Legislature in 1943 to enable the state to take a more active role in the development of the land and irrigation projects incidental to the completion of the dam. The commission continued to function until 1967, when it and its parent agency, the Department of Conservation, became defunct.