TwHP Lessons

"The Electric Project": The Minidoka Dam and Powerplant

Images courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
(Bureau of Reclamation)

he big green generators are quiet now.  For almost 90 years, their roar filled the old powerplant on the Bureau of Reclamation's Minidoka Irrigation Project all day, every day.  The plant put the Snake River to work turning the power of falling water into electricity.  The electricity was needed to pump irrigation water up to thousands of acres of sagebrush desert in southern Idaho.

The powerplant was also a step in the expansion of Reclamation's mission.  The Reclamation Act of 1902 gave Reclamation just one job.  That job was to bring irrigation water to the arid "American desert."  By the late 1920s, the bureau's mission also included providing critical hydroelectric power to the rapidly growing cities and states of the West.  Minidoka's powerplant represents that change toward an expanded mission.  Not only did the powerplant supply power to run the irrigation system, it also brought electricity to people living in the towns and on the farms on the project.  Minidoka settlers enjoyed the "magic force" of electricity at a time when more than 98 percent of American farmers had to do without such luxury.

The Secretary of the Interior approved construction of the Minidoka Project in 1904 to bring irrigation water to 120,000 acres of arid land lying north and south of the Snake River.  The project facilities to be built included a long, low dam, a large reservoir, a complex system of canals, and a powerplant.  Today, the Minidoka Project includes seven dams and thousands of miles of canals bringing water to more than a million acres of productive farmland.  A second powerplant was completed at Minidoka Dam in 1997.

Reclamation is now the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the United States.  The bureau operates 53 powerplants, and delivers irrigation water to 140,000 farmers on 10 million acres of farmland, as well water for various uses to towns and cities.



About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Map
  1. Map 1: Federal Irrigation Projects, 1934.

Determining the Facts: Readings

  1. Reading 1: The Minidoka Project.
  2. Reading 2: Hydropower at Minidoka.
  3. Reading 3: "The Electric Project."

Visual Evidence: Images
  1. Illustration 1: Schematic Drawing of a Hydroelectric Generator.
  2. Photo 1: Aerial View of Minidoka Dam and Powerplant, 2015.
  3. Illustration 2: Minidoka Project in 1911, showing Main Transmission Lines.
  4. Photo 2: Homesteader's Home, Minidoka Project, ca. 1910.
  5. Photo 3: Interior of the Minidoka Powerplant, 1911.
  6. Photo 4: Canal and Transmission Lines, ca. 1915.
  7. Photo 5: Domestic Science Class, Rupert High School, ca. 1914.

Putting It All Together: Activities
  1. Activity 1: Centuries of Change: How Everyday Life Has Changed Due to Electricity
  2. Activity 2: Public vs. Private Power
  3. Activity 3: How do you get your electricity?

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This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration file for the Minidoka Powerplant in Cassia County, Idaho. It is one among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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