Utah Drought Solutions Under Governor George Clyde, 1957-1965

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This blog post was written by Sadie Webster, a fall 2022 intern at the Utah State Archives and Records Services. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Library Science from Emporia State University.


Black and white photograph of Utah Governor George D. Clyde.
Utah Governor George D. Clyde. Photo from the University of Utah – 1964 Utonian

Drought is a common plague for the agriculture industry in the dry and torrid West, particularly in a place such as Utah where this industry is a prominent aspect of Utah economics, and an important lifeblood of the state. Solving the problem of water distribution in Utah has been a challenge since the first pioneer settlers came to Utah, and that challenge has persisted throughout the decades. The widespread drought during Governor George Clyde’s incumbency made water conservation and management one of the biggest issues during Clyde’s administration. 

The newly digitized records from Governor Clyde’s Newspaper Clippings series provide insight into how the State of Utah navigated this pervasive issue from 1957-1961, and found solutions for the agricultural and municipal water needs of the state. Throughout this time period, Governor Clyde was very active in attending committees, conferences, and meetings with state and federal officials to discuss ways to put an end to drought in Utah, as well as partnering with other states and the federal government to fund projects that would bring more water to the West.

The Weber Basin Project

Plans for what is known as The Weber Basin Project began in 1942, though construction of the project did not begin until the early to mid-1950s. This construction continued through Clyde’s administration as Governor of Utah and was finally completed in 1969, after the conclusion of his tenure.1 The project was largely focused on the expanded distribution of water through various dams, irrigation systems, creeks, and lakes, and resulted in the creation of six reservoirs.2 Funding for the project came primarily from its water sales and contracts with the federal government.3 Now, years after its completion, citizens of Utah are still receiving the benefits of this project as it annually contributes 166,000 acre feet of water for irrigation and 50,000 acre feet for municipal and industrial use.4

The Bear River Project

A black and white map of the Bear River Project.
Map of the Bear River Project from the Salt Lake Tribune, November 29, 1960.

 The Bear River Project was another major effort during this time, a $70 million project outlined to increase irrigation across Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. The statistics for the project were impressive: the undertaking would provide water to 80,000 acres across the West, create four new dams and reservoirs, and establish a hydroelectric power plant that would provide an estimated 65 million kilowatts of energy annually.5 Initially, there was some controversy over the water rights for the Bear River between Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, as the Bear River crossed over all of these listed states a total of five times.6 Some disagreements were so heated that disputes surrounding this water source even made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A Negotiating Committee was formed for the purpose of settling this controversy to have each state claim water rights as represented by state delegates.7 George Clyde, who was Commissioner at the time, was involved with negotiating these important water rights for Utah, and he would remain heavily involved in negotiating these important water talks later in his incumbency as governor of Utah.

The Central Utah Project

1947 conception of the Central Utah Project (series 200).
1947 conception of the Central Utah Project from Utah State Archives Series 200.

Hailed as “the most important future resource water development program in the State of Utah,”8 the Central Utah Project was projected to last 25 years and utilize a budget of $259 million, making it the largest water project in the state to date. Talks about such a project began in 1939, though it was not approved on a federal level until 1956, just one year before Governor Clyde took office.9 The timing of this project contributed to making the Central Utah Project and water and conservation one of the most imperative topics of Governor Clyde’s incumbency. The Central Utah Project was originally proposed as a part of the Colorado River-Great Basin Project. Utah would go on to receive federal support to continue its drought-ending efforts when United States President Eisenhower approved a bill that allocated $70 million to that same project.10 However, a little over a year after this allocation took place, state government leaders set about seeking to obtain more funding for the Central Utah Project. The primary method sought to fulfill these funding needs came through implementing tax levies to finance construction.11

To learn more about droughts and other issues such as Native American relations, education, healthcare, and other challenges facing the George Clyde administration during this time period, check out the George Clyde collection through the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service. This collection of newspaper clippings offers insight into history from the perspective of those that were living through these events, and serve as insightful snippets of valuable Utah history during this defining time. 

Footnotes

  1. “District History.” Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, Accessed 27 November 2022. https://weberbasin.com/AboutUs/DistrictHistory.
  2. “Weber Basin Project.” Bureau of Reclamation, 27 November 2022. https://www.usbr.gov/projects/index.php?id=408.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “$70 Billion Dollar Bear Project Outlined.” Salt Lake Tribune, 29 November 1960. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s60055w4/26456179.
  6. Jibson, Wallace. “History of the Bear River Compact,” Utah Division of Water Rights. Accessed 27 November 2022. https://waterrights.utah.gov/techinfo/bearrivc/history.html.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Koenig, Bob. “Central Utah ‘Key’ to Water Projects.” The Deseret News, 6 October 1960.
  9. “The Central Utah Project–An Overview.” US Department of the Interior. Accessed 27 November 2022. https://www.doi.gov/cupcao/Overview.
  10. “Utah Projects Allocated $70 Million.” The Deseret News, 3 September 1960.
  11. “Clyde, Area to Consider Central Project Finance.” The Salt Lake Tribune, 9 December 1961.

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