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Facilities of the division store and deliver a full water supply to 56,490 acres of irrigable land and a supplemental supply to 9,600 acres along the Republican River and its tributaries.
Irrigation releases are made from all reservoirs to the streams for diversion into downstream canal systems. In addition, irrigation releases are made from Swanson Lake directly into the Meeker-Driftwood Canal system. Enders Dam and Reservoir, Trenton Dam and Swanson Lake, Red Willow Dam and Hugh Butler Lake, and Medicine Creek Dam and Harry Strunk Lake are located on the Frenchman River, Republican River, Red Willow Creek, and Medicine Creek, respectively.
The Culbertson Diversion Dam and the Culbertson Canal and laterals in the Frenchman Valley Irrigation District were privately built about 1890. Project construction in the 1950`s included rehabilitation of the canal to add a supplemental water supply for the 9,600 acres in the district and carry water to the Culbertson Extension Canal that serves 11,490 acres in the Hitchcock and Red Willow (H&RW) Irrigation District.
The 45,000 acres in the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation district are served by the Meeker-Driftwood, Red Willow, Bartley, and Cambridge Canal systems. The Meeker-Driftwood Canal system begins at Trenton Dam and includes the Upper Meeker, Upper Meeker Sub, Driftwood, Driftwood West, Driftwood Sub, and Meeker Extension Canals. Red Willow, Bartley, and Cambridge Diversion Dams divert water from Red Willow Creek and the Republican River to the Red Willow, Bartley, and Cambridge Canals.
The total length of the canals in the division is 205.3 miles. In addition, 181.4 miles of laterals distribute irrigation water to the farms, and there are approximately 35 miles of subsurface drains.
Enders Dam, an earthfill structure 1.5 miles south of Enders, Nebraska, has a structural height of 134 feet, and a concrete spillway located in the right abutment with six 50- by 30-foot radial gates. There is a 10-foot-wide uncontrolled overflow section through the center of the spillway. An earthfill dike 26 feet high begins about 4,000 feet north of the left abutment of the dam. The outlet works through the dam is controlled by two 60-inch hollow-jet valves.
The Culbertson Diversion Dam is a concrete structure containing two 14- by 9.5-foot radial-type spillway gates and a 30-inch-diameter bypass conduit. The canal headworks are a concrete structure containing two 10- by 6-foot radial gates and spillway stilling basin. The diversion capacity required is 400 cubic feet per second, at a water surface elevation of 2740.2 ft. The spillway gates are designed for a capacity of 1,250 cubic feet per second, at a water surface elevation of 2741.0 ft and tailwater at an elevation of 2737.0 ft. The remainder of the flood will flow over the wasteway and low-lying flood plain to the south of the main channel and will re-enter the main channel downstream from the diversion dam. The 30-inch bypass conduit is required to meet downstream water needs and to assist in sluicing deposited material through the dam.
Trenton Dam, on the Republican River near Trenton, Nebraska, is an earthfill structure with a structural height of 144 feet. The spillway is at the left abutment. Two gated sluiceways permit river releases. A concrete conduit through the base of the dam near the right abutment provides for releases through a stilling basin to the Upper Meeker Canal to serve lands of the Meeker-Driftwood Unit. These lands are located along the south side of the Republican River from the dam to a point about 8 miles east of McCook. Regulation of releases through the conduit is by a 4-foot-square high-pressure gate at the control house adjacent to the stilling basin. The reservoir behind the dam is called Swanson Lake.
The Upper Meeker Canal begins at Trenton Dam and extends 15.2 miles along the south side of the Republican River to a point just south of Culbertson, to serve canals of the Meeker-Driftwood Unit. The canal has a capacity of 284 cubic feet per second. The 6.3 mile-long Upper Meeker Subcanal has a capacity of 30 cubic feet per second and supplies the existing Meeker Canal.
The Driftwood Canal begins at the end of the Upper Meeker Canal and extends south, southeasterly, and northeast on the south side of the Republican River Valley to within 8 miles east of McCook. It has a capacity of 225 cubic feet per second and is 13.7 miles long.
The remaining canals of this system, Driftwood West, Driftwood Sub, and Meeker Extension, have a total length of about 27 miles, have capacities ranging from 30 to 90 cubic feet per second, and serve lands farther east in the Meeker-Driftwood Unit south of McCook. The Meeker-Driftwood Canal system serves 16,576 irrigable acres.
Red Willow Dam, located on red Willow Creek about 10 miles northwest of McCook, is an earthfill embankment with a structural height of 126 feet that forms a reservoir of 86,630 acre-feet. An ungated concrete spillway is located in the right abutment. An outlet works through the base of the dam provides for river and irrigation releases for downstream diversions. The reservoir behind this dam is Hugh Butler Lake.
Red Willow Creek Diversion Dam, located on Red Willow Creek about 6 miles northwest of Indianola, is a concrete baffled apron weir with earth embankments at both ends. The dam diverts water into the Red Willow Canal to serve lands of the Red Willow Unit lying north of the Republican River. The canal is 24.1 miles long, has a capacity of 90 cubic feet per second, and serves 4,932 acres of irrigable land.
The Bartley Diversion Dam is located on the Republican River about 2 miles southeast of Indianola, Nebraska. The dam is a concrete weir with embankment wings and has a total length of 3,100 feet. The Bartley Canal originates at the dam and supplies water to the portion of the Red Willow Unit south of the river. The canal is 19.4 miles long and serves 6,539 acres.
Medicine Creek Dam is on Medicine Creek 2 miles west and 7 miles north of Cambridge, Nebraska. This earthfill embankment dam has a structural height of 165 feet, and an uncontrolled concrete spillway in the left abutment. The outlet works through the dam consist of concrete conduit and 44-inch-diameter steel pipe controlled by a high-pressure gate. Harry Strunk Lake is formed by the dam.
Cambridge Diversion Dam is located on the Republican River about 2 miles east of Cambridge. It is a concrete and earthfill dam having a total length of 900 feet. The Cambridge Canal begins at the dam and extends along the Republican River 49.2 miles to the Harlan County Reservoir to serve 17,053 acres of the Cambridge Unit.
Enders Dam and Reservoir, Trenton Dam and Swanson Lake, Red Willow Dam and Hugh Butler Lake, and Medicine Creek Dam and Harry Strunk Lake are operated and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation. When water surfaces rise above the top of the conservation capacities, the dams and reservoirs are operated under instructions provided by the Corps of Engineers.
The Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District operates and maintains Bartley Diversion Dam, its canal and laterals; Cambridge Diversion Dam, its canal and laterals; Meeker-Driftwood distribution system; and Red Willow Creek Diversion Dam, its canal and laterals.
The Frenchman Valley Irrigation District operates and maintains the Culbertson Diversion Dam and the Culbertson Canal. The seepage losses on the Culbertson Canal are shared with the H&RW Irrigation District.
The H&RW Irrigation District operates and maintains the Culbertson Extension Canal.
Government lands surrounding the reservoirs of the division and water surfaces used for recreation and wildlife are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The Frenchman-Cambridge area was inhabited in the 15th century by a tribe of Indians who subsisted on corn and fish, according to anthropologists who found the remains of a large Indian village in the Medicine Creek Valley. It is believed that they were driven from their homes by floods and droughts which destroyed their means of subsistence.
A similar fate threatened the settlers during the latter part of the 19th century when they attempted farming in southwestern Nebraska. Many of the pioneers, after having been flooded or burned out, became discouraged and abandoned their farms. Those who remained visualized the possibility of developing irrigation along the Republican and Frenchman Rivers. Irrigation systems now in use near Culbertson and McCook are successful survivors of the early attempts to irrigate the land.
A combination of extreme drought, low prices for farm products, and a disastrous flood in 1935 forced farm and business leaders of the area to seek aid in planning and establishing a sound agricultural economy. Intensive investigations initiated in 1939 and continued during the succeeding years provided the foundation for a plan for controlling floods and storing water for irrigation. This plan, which was included in the overall development of the Missouri River Basin, was published as Senate Document 191. The initial investigations made by the Bureau of Reclamation were completed and reported upon in March 1940. On April 8, 1946, the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District was formed, and on November 1, 1946, the first contract for the construction of Enders Dam was awarded.
The definite plan report of February 1951 for the division was approved by the Commissioner of Reclamation on September 13, 1951. A feasibility report on Red Willow Dam and Reservoir, dated October 1957, transferred jurisdiction over the facility from the Corps of Engineers to the Bureau of Reclamation (Public Law 85-783).
The basic plan for the division was authorized by the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944. The initial stage of development, as recommended in Senate Document 191, received authorization at the same time.
Construction of the division was started on March 1, 1947. Cambridge and Medicine Creek Dams were completed in 1949; Enders Dams, 1951; Trenton Dam, 1953; Bartley Diversion Dam, 1954; Culbertson Diversion Dam, 1959; and Red Willow Dam, 1962. Cambridge Canal and Bartley Canal were completed in 1954; Driftwood Canal, 1959; Red Willow Canal, 1964; Culbertson Canal Enlargement, 1961; and the Culbertson Extension Canal, 1961.
Agriculture is the basic industry in the Frenchman-Cambridge Division area. Irrigation has provided a more desirable balance between crop and livestock production. Crop yields have greatly improved since construction of the division`s irrigation facilities; principal crops include corn, wheat, alfalfa hay, and sorghum.
The reservoirs of the division provide many thousands of persons from Nebraska and surrounding States with the water-oriented sports of boating, skiing, swimming, fishing, camping, and waterfowl hunting. Anglers enjoy excellent fishing for bass, catfish, crappie, pike, drum, walleye, and other common warm-water species. Numerous tracts at each reservoir and impoundment provide food and cover for pheasant, quail, small fur-bearing animals, and mule and white-tail deer.
For specific information about any of these recreation sites, click on the name below.
The 1935 flood on the Republican River took 110 lives; the 1947 flood on Medicine Creek claimed 13. In 1957, a major flood caused $16 million in property damage and loss. Today, flood waters are stored in the reservoirs of the division or released at rates which minimize downstream damage.
Enders Reservoir has an exclusive flood control capacity of 30,048 acre-feet and a surcharge capacity of 6,203 for a total flood capacity of 36,251 acre-feet; Harry Strunk Lake has an exclusive flood control capacity of 52,715 acre-feet and a surcharge capacity of 105,660 acre-feet for a total flood capacity of 158,375 acre-feet; Hugh Butler Reservoir has an exclusive flood control capacity of 86,627 acre-feet; and Swanson Reservoir has an exclusive flood capacity of 246,291 acre-feet. Thees four storage reservoirs combine for a total allocated flood capacity of 527,544 acre-feet. As of 1998, Swanson Reservoir has prevented $14.5 million in flood damages.