1977 President Carter Seeks Oahe Review
Not only did a new majority that opposed the Oahe project now control policy at the Oahe Conservancy Sub-district, a new president, Jimmy Carter, a Democrat from Georgia, was elected. Together, these two conditions would dramatically change the course of the Oahe irrigation project.
In 1977 United Family Farmers assumed control of the sub-district, with John Sieh elected as the new board chairman, Curt Hohn hired as the new sub-district manager, and the sub-district office was moved from Huron (location of the Bureau of Reclamation's Oahe project headquarters) to Aberdeen (nearer irrigation areas, and where UFF presence was stronger). The newly installed sub-district board officially asked the Bureau of Reclamation to halt project construction and landowner condemnations, and announced plans for seven public hearings on the project, each focused on a different critical issue. New President Jimmy Carter vowed to reform federal water development, and included Oahe on a long list of federal projects to be reviewed. The media labeled this collection of projects as a “hit list”. Carter’s reform plan and hit list was controversial in the US Congress, and Senate debate featured South Dakota Democratic Senators and close friends –James Abourezk and George McGovern- squaring off in sharp disagreement over whether or not Oahe should be on the list, with Abourezk supporting United Family Farmers. The Congressional version of Carter’s review list was smaller than the President’s (nine projects instead of 18), and Carter reluctantly signed the reform package into law. Oahe was one of the projects to be reviewed. The Bureau of Reclamation ignored the sub-district and continued building the project and acquiring land through condemnation or purchase from private landowners for the project. United Family Farmers and its directors on the sub-district board thwarted efforts by Oahe supporters to diminish or alter the sub-district’s authority. Oahe supporers unsuccessfully sought to replace the sub-district and change its board structure.