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Moses Lake: 1938-1990

The Northwest is destined to become the greatest power empire in the nation. Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, Spokesman Review, August 20, 1941.

Aerial view of Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt, 1970s. Photo courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation

Decades of living with an unstable water supply led many Moses Lake residents to support federal plans to dam the Columbia River at Grand Coulee on the Columbia Plateau. The dam would help control flooding and divert irrigation water to farmland.

Grand Coulee Dam, constructed from 1935 to 1941, became a showcase of the government's New Deal public works and recovery program during the Great Depression.


The dam provided hydroelectric power which fueled the Northwest's industrial boom in the 1940s and spawned the government's Columbia Basin Project in the 1950s.

Optimists hoped that the Project would wet a half-million acres of dry land and create a hundred thousand small family farms in central Washington. Replacing dust and rock with vast tracts of irrigated land conjured utopian images of a green oasis, drawing people of all backgrounds to Moses Lake to work on construction or to farm.

By the mid-1950s Moses Lake supported an air base, food processing plants, and a growing service economy. Between 1940 and 1952, the population of Moses Lake jumped from 326 to 4,244, growing to 11,235 by 1990.


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