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Cedar Bluff Unit
Photo of Cedar Bluff Dam and Reservoir
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Pick Sloan Missouri Basin Program
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Cedar Bluff Unit History (37 KB) (pdf)

General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Cedar Bluff Unit of the Pick-Sloan Missouri River Program is on the north side of the Smoky Hill River, 18 miles southwest of Ellis, Kansas. It consists of an earthfill dam and reservoir and provides water to the Cedar Bluff National Fish Hatchery and to the city of Russell, Kansas. The unit also protects the downstream valley from floods.

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The Cedar Bluff Unit was originally designed to provide irrigation water. However, the system became depleted and no water was available for delivery after 1978. The Cedar Bluff Irrigation District disbanded in 1994, and the Kansas Water Office and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks acquired use and control of portions of the reservoir capacity. Cedar Bluff Reservoir storage now furnishes an annual maximum of 2,000 acre-feet of municipal water for Russell and up to 4,000 acre-feet of water annually for the Cedar Bluff National Fish Hatchery.

Facility Descriptions
Cedar Bluff Dam

Cedar Bluff Dam is a rolled earthfill structure with rock riprap on the upstream face. The dam rises 134 feet above streambed, has a crest length of 12,560 feet, and a volume of 8,490,000 cubic yards.

The uncontrolled concrete overflow spillway is located on the right abutment. An ungated orifice through the spillway crest operates when water rises into the flood control capacity. Eight gated sluiceways through the base of the spillway crest also can aid in rapid evacuation of the flood control reservoir capacity. Gated outlet works through the base of the dam release water to the fish hatchery and into the river for the city of Russell and for other downstream requirements.

After the Cedar Bluff Irrigation District disbanded, a `designated operating pool` was established for Cedar Bluff Reservoir and includes the following suballocation pools: the City of Russell's original water storage right, which remained unchanged; an artificial recharge pool under control of the Kansas Water Office; and a fish, wildlife, and recreation pool under control of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The designated operating pool consists of water stored between the dead pool and elevation 2109.05 feet. A `joint-use pool` has been established between the operating pool and the flood control pool for water supply, flood control, and environmental and recreation purposes. Water rights for the joint-use pool are held jointly between the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Kansas Water Office.

Cedar Bluff Canal

The Cedar Bluff Canal originates at the reservoir outlet works and extends eastward on the north side of the river. It was constructed to deliver irrigation water, but is no longer operable.

Operating Agencies

Cedar Bluff Dam and Reservoir are operated and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation. Operation of the reservoir is coordinated with that of other dams and reservoirs in the Kansas River Basin. The Corps of Engineers furnishes data and information of operational procedures for regulation of water stored in the flood control capacity. Operation of the recreation areas is administered by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

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Taos Indians constructed a pueblo at the present site of the Scott County State Park, diverted the waters of a large spring, and dug irrigation ditches to serve their fields of maize. A settler, who homesteaded the land in the park, built his home near the pueblo ruins and reconstructed the Indians` irrigation system. However, until 1872 there were only 12 homesteaders in Ellis County, and most agricultural attempts were failures.

In 1875, large numbers of immigrant farmers established homes in the southern part of Ellis County; one of the colonies occupied part of the present project area. The agricultural production was limited to the raising of wheat, except for small vegetable gardens. Cattle grazing also was carried on to some extent. The predominant crop of the area is corn.


The extreme drought in western Kansas during 1930-1940 focused nationwide attention on Cedar Bluff and the surrounding areas. A popular demand developed for formal investigations to determine the practicability of projects for irrigation, flood control, and other possible water utilization. This area was otherwise entirely dependent upon dry farming, with wheat as the major crop. The towns of Hays, Russell, Victoria, and Gorham also were concerned over decreasing municipal well water supplies and became interested in a reservoir to supplement their existing sources.

The Bureau of Reclamation studied the problem in the local area while conducting investigations of the entire Missouri River Basin. Surveys of the Smoky Hill River Basin and the Cedar Bluff Unit were started in October 1941, but discontinued during World War II. They were resumed in March 1946.


The Cedar Bluff Unit was authorized by the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944, Public Law 534, 78th Congress, 2d session (58 Stat. 887). This act approved and, in part, authorized the comprehensive Missouri River Basin development plans presented in Senate Document 191, as revised and coordinated with the Corps of Engineers` plans by Senate Document 247. Both documents were of the 78th Congress, 2d session.


Construction of Cedar Bluff Dam was begun April 1, 1949, and the dam and reservoir were completed September 29, 1951. Construction of the water delivery system to serve lands in the Cedar Bluff Irrigation District No. 6 began in 1961, and water was available to the entire 6,200 acres of project lands originally included in the unit by July 1963. By amendment No. 1 to contract No. 14-06-700-2118, dated October 27, 1969, the irrigable acreage was increased to 6,800.

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Up to 2,000 acre-feet of water is available annually from the reservoir for use by the city of Russell. Releases are made directly to the Smoky Hill River for diversion by city-owned pumps and pipelines. In 1966, the State of Kansas approved a water right granting the city of Russell a storage limit in Cedar Bluff Reservoir of 2,700 acre-feet and maximum releases from storage of 2,000 acre-feet per year.

Recreation, Fish & Wildlife

Just 13 miles south of Interstate 70 west of Hays, Kansas, Cedar Bluff State Park straddles the reservoir of the same name, providing approximately 1,000 acres of park. Camping (including cabins), boating, fishing, wildlife viewing, and a variety of outdoor sports such as volleyball, swimming, basketball, frisbee golf, and horseshoes are available in the park. In the summer, interpretive programs may be available, as well. With 74 utility sites and large areas set aside for nondesignated primitive camping, the park comes built to suit nearly any taste and includes two handicapped accessible primitive cabins.

Cedar Bluff Reservoir is a feature of the Cedar Bluff Unit, Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, and is located on the Smoky Hill River in west central Kansas. The reservoir is open 24 hours daily and has good access roads. Available fish species include walleye, crappie, white bass, channel catfish, and wipers. The reservoir has approximately 6,100 surface acres. Fishing season is yearround. A snack bar is available.

The 6,000 acre lake and almost 9,000 acres of adjacent wildlife area make Cedar Bluff State Park an excellent base camp for hunters, fishermen, and year-round explorers. High limestone bluffs provide a stunning rustic setting for all these outdoor activities. Threshing Machine Canyon, one of the best kept historical secrets in the state, lies just west of the park. In the 1850s, Native Americans attacked a wagon train in the canyon, the walls of which still bear carvings from that time.

Excellent hunting, fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, picnicking, and camping attract many visitors to the reservoir each year. Hunting is available to the public for deer, waterfowl, and upland game. Special hunts can be arranged by application for youth, disabled, or family groups. The Cedar Bluff Fish Hatchery, located immediately below the dam, ensures an adequate stocking program.

For specific information on Cedar Bluff Reservoir, click on the name below.

Cedar Bluff Reservoir
Flood Control

The flood of May 1938 had a estimated peak flow of 97,000 cubic feet per second at Cedar Bluff Dam. Before construction of the dam and reservoir, this and numerous other floods caused severe damage to crops, livestock, and property in the valley. Cedar Bluff Dam and Reservoir now control the floodwaters and ordinarily maintain the outflow at or below the channel capacity.

Cedar Bluff Dam has been allocated 191,860 acre-feet of exclusive flood control capacity and 353,230 acre-feet of surcharge capacity. The total flood control capacity available at Cedar Bluff Dam is 445,090 acre-feet. As of December 1999, the Corps of Engineers estimated Cedar Bluff Reservoir had prevented $3.5 million in flood damages.

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Last updated: Apr 04, 2013