Grand Coulee made the ‘desert bloom’

It was called the “biggest thing on Earth built to make the desert bloom.”

And brother, did it ever.

Grand Coulee Dam was built across the upper Columbia River during the Great Depression and it turned a desolate landscape into some of the richest farming country in the nation.

“Grand Coulee Dam: American Experience” examines the construction and the aftermath of the gigantic dam project in Washington state in a broadcast to air Tuesday 7 p.m. on Panhandle PBS.

The dam became part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he promised to deliver when he was inaugurated in 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression. As the PBS website notes: “It promised to fulfill President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision for a “planned promised land” where hard-working farm families would finally be free from the drought and dislocation caused by the elements.”

Grand Coulee brought water to parched land, quenching a thirst created by a crippling national drought.

The program, produced by WGBH out of Boston, Mass., describes the landscape this way: “Lying in the rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains to the West, which trapped the moisture-rich winds coming in from the Pacific, eastern Washington contains some of the driest land in an already parched American West. ‘It is a desert pure and simple,’ one 19th century surveyor noted, ‘an almost lifeless, waterless desert.’

“Coursing through this barren and mostly uninhabited landscape, for 1,200 tantalizing miles, ran one of the greatest sources of water in the world — the Columbia River.

“Draining a watershed of more than 258,000 square miles, including the Canadian Rockies, the river’s cold, crystalline waters flowed south into the United States, then curved in a huge bend around what was known as the Columbia Basin, before turning west and cutting through the Cascades to the Pacific.”

Grand Coulee was built to irrigate the land and to this day it remains a tremendous resource for ranchers and farmers in that part of the country.

American Experience will tell this compelling story once again.


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