1974 UFF becomes a political force
1974 marked the emergence of United Family Farmers as a potent political force. The new group launched strategic intiatives on multiple fronts, including a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation, legislative proposals in the South Dakota legislature, and an effort to win elections and place project opponents on the Oahe Conservancy Sub-district board of directors. The sub-district elections were of special importance.
Directing policy for the Oahe sub-district was an elected board of 11 directors. Nine of these seats were filled by directors residing in and elected by voters in rural areas of the sub-district. Two directors represented residents in the cities and towns of the sub-district. Contested elections for board positions since the inception of the sub-district in 1960 had been rare, and board seats were occupied by project supporters. That changed in 1974. Since its inception 14 years earlier only project supporters had served as Oahe board directors, and monthly board meetings were uneventful public events characterized by pro-Oahe proclamations and decision-making that favored the project. That circumstance would shift in 1974 when UFF fielded a slate of candidates to run for seats on the Oahe board. Surprisingly, four UFF-backed candidates won, and although two modified their positions and became more accepting of the irrigation project, two UFF candidates, Bill Piper and a Brown County farmer named John Sieh, remained steadfastly opposed to the project. Piper and Sieh effectively promoted their anti-Oahe positions as board members, and many UFF members begin attending board meetings, creating hostile and confrontational conditions with project supporters and board members. The only manager the sub-district had known resigned, stating that the acrimonious atmosphere surrounding the project had become unbearable.