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Talking It Over: New on dam construction
By Wilfred R. Woods   - 02/11/2008

The Wenatchee World Online

More Info on This Book: Grand Coulee Dam

A new book of pictures of the construction of Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia Basin Project comes from Arcadia Publishing as part of the Images of America series.

In the 128 pages of "Images of America Grand Coulee Dam," author Ray Bottenberg has compiled many scenes of construction that I had never seen before, and I thought I had seen 'em all.

He has also written a short two-page history of the project. Like many short histories, it gives a good overview of the long battle to get the dam and the project approved.

And like many histories, it also omits an important aspect of the authorization of the irrigation works.

Franklin D. Roosevelt started the dam as a make-work project, along with Bonneville Dam on the lower Columbia, in 1933. He used Public Works Administration funds, without congressional blessing.

What he started was a low dam, a couple of hundred feet high, that would only produce electricity. It did not include any of the irrigation features that were the reason local supporters had fought for the project.

So the battle for authorization of the "high dam" that would bring water to the project switched to Congress.

In the meantime, there were loud cries of opposition to the dam from all directions, suggesting that there was no market for all the new power that would be produced.

The key to the success of the congressional authorization was the majority leader of the House of Representatives, a man by the name of Sam Billingsley Hill, of the 5th District.

Hill was a Waterville attorney who had moved from Izzard County, Ark., early in the last century.

He was a cousin of the late Kirby Billingsley, Chelan County PUD's longtime commissioner and manager.

It was Hill's commitment to the project and his leadership in the House that enabled the "high dam bill" to be passed by that body. It was later approved by the U.S. Senate.

Without Hill, it is questionable whether we would see the project today.

Buy It Now: Grand Coulee Dam $21.99




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