Bureau's role in our area remains vital

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

From pioneer times and before, it's always been about the water.

When Native American tribes needed respite from encroaching Europeans along the Oregon Trail, they found it along the Republican River.

When the Burlington Railroad sought a route to the west that wasn't already taken, it naturally followed the Republican, leaving towns every 10 miles or so and homesteaders eking out a living on quarter sections of lands for many miles around.

Never far, however, from the lifeblood that was the river.

Twentieth century residents -- Gazette founder Harry Strunk chief among them -- didn't forget the importance of water to life on the Golden Plains, nor the dangers posed by periodic floods like the disaster of 1935.

They pushed through the Flood Control Act of 1944, creating the Frenchman-Cambridge Division of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, also designed to store water to irrigate thousands of acres of land within the Republican River Basin. Fish and wildlife conservation and recreation were side benefits to flood control and irrigation as well.

Harry Strunk was memorialized with a lake in his honor near Cambridge, on which construction began in March 1947. Work followed on Enders in 1951, Swanson in 1953 and Hugh Butler in 1962.

At capacity, the reservoirs provide more than 10,000 surface acres of water surrounded by approximately 19,000 acres of land available for public use.

All of the lakes are within 50 miles of McCook, the largest city in the area, so it was only natural that it become home to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation field office, which opened more than 52 years ago.

That building, originally a dance hall, was recently torn down and turned into a parking lot for a new field office building.

The public is invited to an open house at the new facility, 1706 W. Third Street in McCook, from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Especially in light of conflicts with Kansas over the Republican, it's apparent just how important water remains to our corner of the state. Irrigation, recreation and, yes, even flood control, remain vital to our way of life in the Golden Plains.

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