By Lotte Govaerts
This blog post is part of a series discussing my research on the historical archaeology of the River Basin Surveys (RBS). In a previous post I discussed how the Pick Sloan Plan for the Upper Missouri called for the construction of several dams along the Upper Missouri River. In this entry, I examine the construction of Garrison Dam, and its environmental and social impacts.
The Garrison Dam in North Dakota was the first dam built as part of the Pick Sloan Plan on the Upper Missouri River. Construction started in 1946 and the reservoir first reached its minimum operating pool in 1955. The finished dam measures 11,300 feet (3,440 m) long and 210 feet (64 m) high, and contains 66,500,000 cubic yards (50,842,898 m3) of rolled earth fill and 1,500,000 cubic yards (1,146,832 m3) of concrete. The shoreline at 1,837.5 feet (560.1 m) msl is 1,340 miles (2165.5 km) long and encloses 382,000 surface acres (1546 km2). That makes it the largest reservoir in the US in terms of surface area. In terms of volume, Lake Sakakawea is the third largest reservoir in the US, with just over 30 cubic kilometers, after Lake Meade (37) and Lake Powell (35). (You can find even more numbers and all kinds of data relating to the Pick Sloan dams here (pdf)
Garrison Dam is named after the nearby town of Garrison, North Dakota. The town of Garrison was founded in 1905 and took its name from Garrison Creek, which in turn derived its name from the military garrison stationed at nearby Fort Stevenson in the mid to late nineteenth century. The fort was named for Brigadier General Thomas G. Stevenson, a Union general killed in the civil war (Mattison 1951, p. 54). Look for more information on Fort Stevenson in a future blog post.
Garrison and the other Pick Sloan dams were built for the purpose of flood control, navigation, irrigation, electricity, and recreation. There were some other consequences, some of them entirely unforeseen. Dams by nature have huge impacts on the environment and people in the environment, both locally and in aggregate. The environmental and social impacts of dams are both topics of ongoing research.
The environmental impact of any dam is enormous. The construction of a single dam has immediate and drastic effects on the dammed river and local ecology. At the same time, the cumulative effects of multiple dams on multiple rivers add up to affect continental and global environments (see McCully 2001; Rosenberg et al. 2000). Dams fragment riverine ecosystems, isolating aquatic populations. Migration routes are cut off for riverine species, and terrestrial species who can no longer traverse the river valleys. Dams trap sediments and alter downstream river flows, with impacts on the maintenance of floodplains, river deltas, and coastal wetlands. Most dams significantly reduce or even eliminate all natural flooding downstream of the dam, catastrophically altering floodplains by eliminating their cyclical nutrient source. The construction of reservoirs creates new habitats and ecosystems while old ones are destroyed. These changes generally result in a significant loss to plant and animal species diversity. The deliberate introduction of sport fish species into reservoirs creates further imbalances. Reservoir construction is frequently followed by shoreline development. Moreover, people displaced by the dam need to rebuild communities, businesses, and infrastructure. These types of construction projects in previously undeveloped areas spread the environmental impacts of a dam, threatening more habitats and species further from the reservoir. Some less obvious environmental impacts of large dams are earthquakes and greenhouse gas emissions (see Gupta 1992, 2002; St. Louis et al. 2000).
The construction of Garrison dam, in tandem with the other Pick Sloan dams, completely changed the ecosystems of the Missouri basin from Montana to the confluence with the Mississippi, as well as the lower Mississippi and its delta. Research continues to discover the far-reaching ecological impacts of this dam project (USACE 2004; Alexander et al. 2012; Johnson et al. 2012). Moreover, as one dam among many thousands in the world, Garrison Dam also contributes to changes in the environment on a global scale.
Social effects of dams are intertwined with their environmental impacts, as people live within the ecosystem. Dam building affects all populations living along rivers, but most of the available data concern those populations displaced by the constructed dam and resulting reservoir.
The construction of Garrison Dam predated the formalization of an anthropological theory of displacement and resettlement. Since then, a substantial body of work has emerged and the field has many practitioners (Brokensha 1963; Scudder 2005). Development-induced displacement, and specifically dam-related displacement has been extensively studied (Cernea and Guggenheim 1993; Cernea 1999; Bilharz 1998; Scudder 2005). There is consensus in the field that, although every dam project, every displaced population, and every individual within such a population is naturally unique, development-induced displacement has predictable effects, and displaced populations generally behave in predictable ways.
All displaced populations experience trauma. Even voluntary resettlement of highly educated and well-traveled people is traumatic (Bilharz 1998, p. 32-33; Scudder 2005, p. 49-50). The impact of displacement is especially profound for those people whose sense of community and identity is closely tied to “home” as a physical location. Similarly, populations whose culture is only found in geographically restricted areas are also highly susceptible to the disruptive effects of displacement. As it happens, indigenous people and other ethnic minorities who fit these susceptibility criteria are disproportionally affected by dam building worldwide (Scudder 2005, p. 135).
Implementation of the Pick Sloan plan disproportionately affected native tribes in the region. Over 202,000 acres of Lakota and Dakota Sioux lands were flooded by construction of the Fort Randall, Oahe, and Big Bend dams. The construction of Garrison Dam claimed over 150,000 acres of Fort Berthold Reservation land inhabited by the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara/Sahnish). This loss of Native lands must be considered in the context of a long history of tribes losing land to non-Native interests, as I have discussed in earlier posts.
The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty described the territory of the Tree Tribes thusly (Kappler 1904, p. 594-596):
“The territory of the Gros Ventre, Mandans, and Arrickaras Nations, commencing at the mouth of Heart River; thence up the Missouri River to the mouth of the Yellowstone River; thence up the Yellowstone River to the mouth of Powder River in a southeasterly direction, to the head-waters of the Little Missouri River; thence along the Black Hills to the head of Heart River, and thence down Heart River to the place of beginning”
Several executive orders severely reduced this territory in the next few decades. By 1880 they were left with approximately 290,000 acres, roughly 10 percent of the territory described in the Fort Laramie treaty (see Meyer 1977; Lawson 1982).
When the 1944 Flood Control Act was signed into law, The Three Affiliated Tribes were not consulted regarding the plans to construct Garrison Dam. Research has shown that the location of the main stem Missouri River dams was deliberately chosen so that the reservoirs would spare United States towns and instead flood Native lands (Schneiders 1997).
After the Army Corps of Engineers was already working in the area, Fort Berthold Indians were able to halt expenditures on the Garrison Dam project while they negotiated a settlement. Their claim was based on the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty, in which the US had agreed that land could not be taken from tribes without their consent as well as that of Congress. After several years of negotiations, the Three Affiliated Tribes agreed to sell the 152,360 acres required for the dam project for $12,605,625 in compensation. That amount was nine million less than a third party estimate. Furthermore, claims for additional benefits such as exclusive rights to a small portion of Garrison’s hydroelectric power production at a reduced rate, fishing, hunting, and grazing rights along the shore, irrigation development, and royalty rights for subsurface minerals within the reservoir area were all denied (Meyer 1977, 211-234). Testimonies about the settlement suggest the tribe agreed to the sale because they saw the dam as inevitable, and feared further negotiations would only result in additional dwindling of what they would receive in compensation (United States 1987).
The overall effect was devastating for Fort Berthold Reservation. The population was concentrated in the bottomlands along the river, resulting in the forced relocation of 325 families, (approximately 80 percent of the tribal membership), and the division of the reservation into five disparate segments, separated from each other by water. The tribes also lost 94 percent of their agricultural lands, impacting their ability to be agriculturally independent (Lawson 1982, p. 59; Meyer 1977, p. 219).
For several decades Fort Berthold Indians made attempts to recover additional compensation for their losses, but were unsuccessful. In 1985, in response to ongoing efforts of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Secretary of the Interior established the Garrison Unit Joint Tribal Advisory Committee (JTAC). The committee was charged with investigating the effects of the Pick Sloan Plan dams, specifically the impacts of the Garrison and Oahe dams on Fort Berthold and Standing Rock reservations, with the goal of compensating the tribes for what they had lost. The JTAC’s final report recommended a range of $178.4 million to $411.8 million as just compensation. After more hearings, referrals, and analysis (see Cross 2004, p. 133-134) an agreement was eventually reached for compensation, which became the Equitable Compensation Act, Public Law 102-575, passed by Congress in 1992. Receipts from hydropower were to be added to a treasury account for the tribes until a principal amount of $149.5 million was reached. The tribes had to provide an economic and social recovery plan for the expenditure of the interest.
Despite this recent success, the legal battles of the Three Affiliated Tribes are ongoing. Disputes over water use are growing more intense after extended periods of drought. Some Native tribes in western states have reserved water rights related to the creation of their reservations. For the Three Affiliated Tribes, those rights have not yet been quantified, so it remains to be seen how they will fit into growing conflict over water use in the Missouri basin (see Caposella 2015).
I discussed these topics in much more detail in my recent paper on the transformative consequences of Garrison Dam (Govaerts 2016). More information can also be found in the reference section below.
In my next post in this series we will take a look at how Garrison Dam’s reservoir, Lake Sakakawea got its name, as well as the history of the woman it was named after. Next up is a closer look at the historic sites in the Garrison Dam/Lake Sakakawea area.
Previous posts in this series:
Alexander, Jason S., Richard C. Wilson, and W. Reed Green. “A Brief History and Summary of the Effects of River Engineering and Dams on the Mississippi River System and Delta.” United States Geological Survey, 2012. https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1375/C1375.pdf.
Bilharz, Joy Ann. The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation through Two Generations. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.
Brokensha, David W. “Volta Resettlement and Anthropological Research.” Human Organization 22 (1963): 286–90.
Capossela, Peter. “Impacts of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Pick-Sloan Program on the Indian Tribes of the Missouri River Basin.” Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation 30, no. 1 (2015): 143–217.
Cernea, Michael M. The Economics of Involuntary Resettlement: Questions and Challenges. Washington: World Bank, 1999.
Cernea, Michael M, and Scott E Guggenheim. Anthropological Approaches to Resettlement: Policy, Practice, and Theory. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993.
Cross, Raymond. “Twice-Born from the Waters: The Two-Hundred-Year Journey of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians.” In Lewis & Clark: Legacies, Memories, and New Perspectives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
Govaerts, Lotte E. “Transformative Consequences of Garrison Dam: Land, People, and the Practice of Archaeology.” Great Plains Quarterly 36, no. 4 (December 30, 2016): 281–307.
Gupta, Harsh K. Reservoir Induced Earthquakes. Elsevier, 1992.
Gupta, Harsh K. “A Review of Recent Studies of Triggered Earthquakes by Artificial Water Reservoirs with Special Emphasis on Earthquakes in Koyna, India.” Earth-Science Reviews 58, no. 3–4 (October 2002): 279–310.
Johnson, W. Carter, Mark D. Dixon, Michael L. Scott, Lisa Rabbe, Gary Larson, Malia Volke, and Brett Werner. “Forty Years of Vegetation Change on the Missouri River Floodplain.” BioScience 62, no. 2 (February 1, 2012): 123–35. doi:10.1525/bio.2012.62.2.6.
Kappler, Charles J., ed. Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904.
Lawson, Michael L. Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, 1944-1980. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.
Mattison, Ray H. “Old Fort Stevenson, a Typical Missouri River Military Post.” North Dakota History 18, no. 2–3 (1951): 54–91.
McCully, Patrick. Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams. London; New York: Zed Books, 2001.
Meyer, Roy W. The Village Indians of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Rosenberg, David M., Patrick Mccully, and Catherine M. Pringle. “Global-Scale Environmental Effects of Hydrological Alterations: Introduction.” BioScience 50, no. 9 (September 1, 2000): 746–51. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[0746:GSEEOH]2.0.CO;2.
Schneiders, Robert Kelley. “Flooding the Missouri Valley: The Politics of Dam Site Selection and Design.” Great Plains Quarterly 17 (1997): 237–49.
Scudder, Thayer. The Future of Large Dams Dealing with Social, Environmental, Institutional and Political Costs. London; Sterling, VA: Earthscan, 2005.
St. Louis, Vincent L., Carol A. Kelly, Éric Duchemin, John W. M. Rudd, and David M. Rosenberg. “Reservoir Surfaces as Sources of Greenhouse Gases to the Atmosphere: A Global Estimate: Reservoirs Are Sources of Greenhouse Gases to the Atmosphere, and Their Surface Areas Have Increased to the Point Where They Should Be Included in Global Inventories of Anthropogenic Emissions of Greenhouse Gases.” BioScience 50, no. 9 (September 1, 2000): 766–75.
United States, Final report and recommendations of the Garrison Unit Joint Tribal Advisory Committee: joint hearing before the Select Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, One hundredth Congress, first session on oversight hearing on the final report and recommendations of the Garrison Unit Joint Tribal Advisory Committee. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, March 30, 1987.
United States Army Corps of Engineers – Missouri River Division. “Summary of Engineering Data – Missouri River Main Stem System, 2013.
United States Army Corps of Engineers - Northwestern Division. “Missouri River Final Environmental Impact Statement - Master Control Manual Review and Update.” United States Army Corps of Engineers - Northwestern Division, March 2004.