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Heart Butte Unit
Photo of Heart Butte Dam
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Pick Sloan Missouri Basin Program
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Heart Butte Unit History (36 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits
General Description

The Heart Butte Unit of the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program lies in scattered tracts along the Heart River from Heart Butte Dam to the Missouri River. There are about 13,000 acres of irrigable land available. As of 1992 there were about 8,500 acres of land irrigated.

The Western Heart River Irrigation District contains 2,512 acres of irrigable land. This land is served by project pumping plants in the western section of the unit. Other private irrigators downstream from Heart Butte Dam have formed the Lower Heart Irrigation Company and have contracted with the Bureau of Reclamation for a water supply to irrigate up to 4,178 acres. The remaining irrigable land probably will be developed by the landowners contracting with the Federal Government for a water supply.

Features constructed include Heart Butte Dam and 29 river pumping plants, 1 relift plant, and 17 miles of laterals. The ultimate development, including project and private development, will include about 70 river pumping plants.

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Water released from Lake Tschida to the Western Heart River Irrigation District is pumped into the lateral system by motor-driven pumps which vary in size from 3 to 6 cubic feet per second. The lift from the river averages 25 feet. One relift plant is required to discharge water to higher lands. Power for the pumping plants is supplied from the PSMBP. All laterals and drains have earth sections.

Facility Descriptions
Heart Butte Dam and Lake Tschida

Heart Butte Dam dam is a homogeneous earthfill type, with a structural height of 142 feet and a crest length of 1,850 feet. It contains 1,140,000 cubic yards of earth materials. The dam is on the Heart River in Grant County approximately 18 miles south of Glen Ullin, North Dakota. The spillway is a morning-glory type, leading to a 14- foot tube with a capacity of 5,700 cubic feet per second. The outlet works consist of a gated tube with a capacity of 700 cubic feet per second.

The reservoir has a total capacity of 223,646 acre-feet, of which 147,861 acre-feet are for flood control storage and 206,365 acre-feet are for surcharge. The lake has a surface area of 3,397 acres.

Operating Agencies

Heart Butte Dam and Reservoir are operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Western Heart River Irrigation Project is operated and maintained by the Western Heart River Irrigation District. Private irrigators in the Lower Heart Irrigation Company operate and maintain individual pumps.

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The region was first occupied by ranchers, who settled along the streams and used the public domain for grazing livestock. Large numbers of settlers came during 1900-1910, and emphasis was placed upon the production of cash grain crops. High prices and favorable rainfall encouraged grain farming, which resulted in plowing up of extensive areas of rangeland and overgrazing of the remaining range. Although livestock continued to be important, the demand for wheat during 1914-1920 brought about tremendous expansion in wheat acreage. The drought years of the 1930`s and prevailing low prices seriously disrupted the economy and led to emigration and abandonment of farms.


By 1942, the demands on agricultural production in the United States had exceeded the ability of farms to produce, and farmers in the subhumid area were developing an interest in irrigation. Damaging floods were recurring in the Heart River Valley and along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The President`s Great Plains Drought Area Committee had prepared a report in 1936 stressing the need for conservation of great plains resources and the conditions in the Heart River Valley prompted a new detailed survey in 1942 by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A detailed land classification survey of the lands below Heart Butte Dam was made by Reclamation in 1945. A development report covering the Heart Butte Unit was completed February 10, 1947. Because of a greater requirement for flood control storage, the design of Heart Butte Dam was revised to provide a total storage capacity of 225,500 acre-feet.

The spillway design flood, when routed through the reservoir, resulted in an additional 200,500 acre-feet of surcharge and the powerplant was eliminated.


Authorized as a part of the Heart River Unit by the Flood Control Act of December 22, 1944, Public Law 534, which approved the general plan set forth in Senate Document 191 and House Document 475, as revised and coordinated by Senate Document 247, 78th Congress, 2d session.


Construction of the initial phase of the unit began in April 1948 and was essentially completed by December 1949.

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The availability of water, when needed for irrigation, and pumping facilities enables the transformation of suitable dry land to irrigated production and contributes to restoring the economic stability of the area.

Recreation, Fish & Wildlife

Lake Tschida is the only sizable body of water in the area and has become a popular recreation center. Picnicking, swimming, boating, camping, water skiing activities occur in the summer. Fall and winter activities include hunting, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and ice skating. Designated areas along the shoreline of the reservoir have been leased by the Boy Scouts and other organizations, and 238 sites for summer homes and trailers have been leased. The more remote areas are leased for agricultural uses. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department administers part of the areas for fish and wildlife activities.

For specific information on Heart Butte Reservoir recreational opportunities click on the name below.

Heart Butte Reservoir
Flood Control

The control of the riverflows by Lake Tschida, coupled with the levees at Mandan, North Dakota, prevented a record flow of the Heart River from flooding Mandan in the spring of 1950. Without the dam, the flow at Mandan would have reached about 40,000 cubic feet per second. Lake Tschida has an exclusive flood control capacity of 147,861 acre-feet and a surcharge capacity of 206,361 acre-feet for a total capacity for use in flood damage prevention of 354,222 acre-feet and, as of 1998, has prevented about $13.1 million in flood damages.

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Last updated: Apr 04, 2013