Oahe Moves Forward, More Slowly

In August, 1968, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson enacted Oahe's re-authorization, allowing the irrigation project to move forward. A 1964 federal law required all previously authorized but unbuilt Missouri River projects to face a re-authorization process. Oahe's re-authorization measure specified the project would be built in stages, with a first stage 190,000-acre irrigation project. This represented a large reduction in irrigation, and South Dakotans were concerned. The smaller project found favor with a Congress worried about funding the Vietnam War. South Dakotan Ken Holum, serving as an Assistant Secretary in the Interior Department, played a key role in re-authorization. This photo shows Holum receiving a bill-signing pen from President Johnson. Also pictured (center) is Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, like Holum a South Dakota native.

Holum LBJ

The downsized, staged approach to developing the project was difficult for long-time Oahe supporters in South Dakota to accept. The political strategy behind this approach was to first serve water to irrigation districts already organized west of the James River in Brown and Spink counties, and later expand the project to include irrigation east of the river. South Dakota’s political leadership in Washington, particularly Senator George McGovern and Ken Holum, convinced Oahe Conservancy Sub-district and state officials to agree to the new approach. Additional acres, said Holum, could be added later based on appropriate protocol and legislative approval. Consequently, re-authorization was cheered by economic development boosters throughout South Dakota, especially in Aberdeen and Huron.

Despite the revised Oahe plan –to build the project in stages- South Dakota’s business establishment celebrated re-authorization of the project. This Aberdeen American News article lavished praise on the project.