Senator John Thune
Nearly 50 years ago President John F. Kennedy stood on the banks of the beautiful Missouri River surveying what was, at the time, the largest rolled-earth dam in the world, Oahe Dam. Building the dam was a massive endeavor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Standing 245 feet tall with an earth-fill volume of 92 million cubic yards and a concrete-fill volume of 1.1 million cubic yards, the project took more than 14 years to complete.
The dam was designed to control the wild fluctuations of the Missouri River and to protect property developments and agricultural lands from flooding, while at the same time providing a valuable source of hydroelectric energy to rural America. In his remarks at the dedication of Oahe Dam, President Kennedy called this feat of engineering a “striking illustration of how a free society can make the most of its God-given resources.” Since then, Oahe Dam has become the largest producer of hydroelectric energy on the Missouri River and is an area where families and tourists can enjoy boating, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.
As South Dakota prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Oahe Dam, we reflect back on times when the unpredictable Missouri River has mocked our attempts to control its flow and boundaries. We are reminded that South Dakota’s history is filled with intermittent periods of flooding and severe droughts. Yet, we are thankful for the construction of the Oahe Dam, and recognize, as President Kennedy did, the great power source and economic benefits the dam has channeled on the Missouri River. Despite the state and tribal lands that were flooded during the construction of the dam and promised irrigation benefits not materialized, this important resource has helped to better control the sometimes destructive force of the river and convert it to a constructive source of power generation, recreation, and drinking water for a number of communities and water systems in our state.On this anniversary, there is no question of the sacrifice and dedication of countless men and women who have contributed to the construction and maintenance of the Oahe Dam, nor of the impact that this great resource continues to have on our state and nation.