Dams change agriculture and industry in the Pacific Northwest


Bonneville Dam under construction, ca. 1950, General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.


Between the 1930s and the 1960s the construction of a series of dams changed the character of the rivers, agriculture, industry, ecology and economy of the Pacific Northwest. The centerpiece of this development, the Grand Coulee Dam, is one of the great engineering achievements of the twentieth century. The development of the Grand Coulee Dam included a debate lasting many years over the best site and choice of technology for delivering irrigation to the arid lands of the Columbia Basin.


Start with secondary sources 

Use secondary sources to gain basic knowledge of your topic, its significance, and historical context.

Ask a Librarian online at Washington State Library to get expert help in locating useful secondary sources. 


Then use primary sources

Use primary sources to deepen your understanding of the topic, and assemble evidence to support your own analysis and interpretation.

Ask an Archivist online at Washington State Archives to get expert help in locating useful primary sources.


Some key historical research questions:

  • Why was the Grand Coulee site chosen for dam construction?
  • What role did the dams play during World War II?
  • What impact have the dams had on agriculture, industry and settlement patterns?
  • What impact have the dams had on the ecology of the Northwest rivers?
  • Which industries have declined since the construction of Columbia River Dams?
  • What is the Columbia Basin Project and why was it established?
  • What is the Bonneville Power Administration and why was it formed?
  • Consider other possibilities for historical questions as you analyze and interpret this topic.


Back to History Day topic guide