Ken Holum Plays an Integral Role

Oahe supporters in South Dakota were fortunate that a native son -Ken Holum- was nominated by President John F. Kennedy to a key federal government position promoting water development projects. Holum, a James River valley farmer from Brown County, was appointed to serve as an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Interior, with direct supervision over the Bureau of Reclamation. This appointment would benefit Oahe’s progress.

Ken Holum

Ken Holum was an enthusiastic supporter of the Oahe irrigation project, and his political position and guidance would be crucial to the project. Although his farm on the eastern side of the James River would have been irrigated had the full-stage Oahe project been built, Holum denied that self-interest was a motivation for his support. Indeed, Holum’s lifetime was spent working to deliver services such as electricity and telephone service to farmers. Holum felt that a large-scale water diversion project aiming to deliver irrigation water to farmers was consistent with that rural mission. Holum later said that helping gain congressional authorization and presidential support for the Oahe irrigation project were among his greatest accomplishments. Holum served in the Department of Interior –overseeing the Bureau of Reclamation- from 1961 to early 1969.

Two Decades of Commitment

Ken Holum’s commitment and contributions to the Oahe Project spanned more than 20 years. After leaving his post in the Interior Department he continued to promote and aid the project, including serving as a political consultant to the Oahe Conservancy Sub-district. This newspaper editorial, placed by Holum in 1969, demonstrates his firm belief that the Oahe project would not only deliver economic prosperity, but that it represented successful conservation. Holum’s concept of “conservation” would be repudiated and replaced by the conservation principles of the environmental movement, which viewed projects such as Oahe as ecologically destructive and unacceptable.