NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) – Back in 1920, government officials and farmers collaborated to find irrigation solutions. In the summer months, the Platte River would dry up, so the dam projects would trap water in the spring for farmers. By 1930, the Sutherland Water project was introduced. The Kingsley damn was built where Lake McConaughy is and east of Kingsley is the Keystone Diversion dam. The point where the diversion takes place in what became the Sutherland Water Project. The water is redirected into canals and used for irrigation.
“We needed irrigation and electricity,” said Jim Griffin, Curator Director of the Lincoln County Historical Museum. “They knew if they could produce the electricity it would pay for this project at the end.”
The Sutherland Water project created three hydroelectric plants. At full capacity, the power plant south of town can provide all the needs of North Platte.
“It was a great project because it supplied electricity to this region of Nebraska but also provided more reliable irrigation for farmers in the valley,” Griffin said. “In return, it made this whole area more agriculturally productive.”
The Sutherland Water project is one of the links between many chains. Many locals gained employment and the project brought industry professionals to town that spent money at local businesses.
“A hotel in North Platte had its power shut off because they couldn’t pay their bills,” Griffin said. “The Sutherland Water project was bringing people to stay at the hotels and they were spending money while they stayed here. Businesses started taking off downtown because of that. All of that ties into personal stories of people who lived during the Great Depression and said ‘they had plenty of food just no money,’ and the money flow increased with the Sutherland Water Project. ”
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