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Michaud Flats Project
American Falls Dam
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Michaud Flats Project History (59 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Michaud Flats Project provides irrigation for some 11,200 acres along the Snake River adjacent to the town of American Falls in southeastern Idaho. Surface flow of the Snake River, stored in space allotted to the project in American Falls (Minidoka Project) and Palisades (Palisades Project) Reservoirs, is pumped from below American Falls Reservoir into canals that serve 69 percent of the land. Return flow is used on as much of the land as it will serve, and ground water is pumped from wells to serve the remainder. The project area is part of 65 square miles of flat rolling land south of the Snake River between Pocatello and Eagle Rock known as the Michaud Flats. Irrigable land on the flats is divided by the western boundary of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation into a Michaud Flats extension of the Fort Hall Indian Project and the Michaud Flats Project.

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The engineering plan selected for the Michaud Flats Project provided for serving 11,240 acres, of which 8,053 acres would be provided surface water, and 3,187 acres with ground water pumped from strategically located wells. The service area is somewhat less than that now, due to subdivision development and other changes. Distribution of water to 99 percent of the total acreage is now by sprinkler irrigation. Distribution of the surface or storage water on the project required the construction of a main pumping plant, three small booster pumping plants, canals, and laterals. The ground-water service area includes 25 deep wells.

Facility Descriptions

American Falls Pumping Plant

The American Falls Pumping Plant is on the left bank of the Snake River immediately below American Falls Dam. The plant has four pumping units with a total capacity of 126 cubic feet per second. The maximum head under which the pumps operate is 195 feet.

Canal System

The discharge line from American Falls Pumping Plant delivers water to both the Main Canal West and the Main Canal East. The Main Canal West, about 9.5 miles long and serving the irrigable acres southwest of the town of American Falls, is unlined and has an initial capacity of 38 cubic feet per second. The Main Canal East, about 10 miles long, serves the irrigable acres northeast of town. This canal is also unlined and has an initial capacity of 88 cubic feet per second.

There are 25 deep wells equipped with pumps, 7 on the west side of the project and 18 on the east. On the west side, two of the wells discharge into the main canal, two into open laterals, and three are directly connected to piped laterals. All 18 wells on the east side are directly connected to piped laterals.

Operating Agencies

The Bureau of Reclamation operated the project in the early development stages. Beginning January 1, 1961, the Falls Irrigation District assumed operations.

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Named from American Falls on the Snake River, the town of American Falls grew from a campsite on the old Oregon Trail. Placer mining brought the first settlement; stock raising and farming followed and have continued to increase. Michaud Flats was named after a French scout who traded furs with the Indians in the area in the 1840`s. Early settlement of the general area began in the 1860`s on the bottom lands along the Snake River and its tributaries where the plentiful native hay and pasture encouraged stock raising. Establishment of the Fort Hall military post on Lincoln Creek in 1870 afforded protection and a trading center, and agriculture began to expand to the surrounding bench lands.

Irrigation of areas upstream from American Falls was first practiced in the 1870`s by simple diversion to bottom lands that are now largely covered by American Falls Reservoir. Irrigation was expanded to the higher terraces when Carey Act companies were organized to build the larger facilities required. Most of this development took place from 1884 to 1905, fostered by completion of the Utah and Northern Railroad in 1881 and the Union Pacific Railroad shortly thereafter. Construction of the American Falls Dam during the mid-1920`s required moving the town but brought new population to the area.


Reclamation studies were started in 1926 with the Bureau of Reclamation`s investigations of the Neeley Project, instituted because of a petition by the Power County Irrigation District that was organized in 1920. The landowners originally expected to obtain a water supply from Snake River through extension of the Fort Hall Indian Project and Canal, but the short water years in 1924 and 1926 indicated the need for additional storage before further development was undertaken. It was assumed that after completion of the American Falls Dam and Reservoir in 1927, the Michaud area would be developed. However, another series of short water years in 1930-1934 showed that even with that reservoir the water supply was inadequate for the land development. As a result of the drought, all irrigation interests in the Snake River Basin began seeking construction of additional storage capacity to ensure supply for existing developments and to provide water for development of new lands. This movement gave rise to proposals to construct Palisades Dam and Reservoir. Continuing interest of the landowners, reflected in the organization of the Falls Irrigation District of 22,000 acres in 1949, led to a detailed investigation of the Michaud Flats Project.

Irrigation possibilities in the Michaud Flats and adjacent areas have been the subject of various investigations, the first of them by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, beginning in about 1890. The Bureau of Reclamation made a full investigation of water use and requirements in the Upper Snake River Valley after the Palisades Project was authorized. The report on that investigation recommended the construction of the Michaud Flats Project. A detailed investigation of the project was renewed in 1948, and the Bureau of Reclamation published a feasibility report in October 1953.


The project was authorized by the Act of August 31, 1954 (68 Stat. 1026, Public Law 83-741). The authorized project purpose is irrigation.


Construction began in 1955, and was completed in 1958.

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In an area of proven value when irrigated, the project has enhanced the economy of the American Falls community. Principal crops are potatoes, sugar beets, grain, alfalfa, and pasture. Since high yields and ready markets characterize other irrigated areas in the Snake River Valley, the Michaud Flats Project is another successful unit in southeastern Idaho.

Endangered Species Act

The Pacific Northwest Region consults with the NOAA Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that project operations and other activities do not jeopardize ESA-listed species or their critical habitats. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provided Biological Opinions on Reclamation's Operations and Maintenance of 12 projects and associated facilities in the Snake River Basin above Lower Brownlee reservoir. The Michaud Flats Project is one the 12 projects covered in the Opinions. 
If conditions don't change, these Opinions should be valid through 2035.
For more information on ESA related activies please go to:

For more information on the fish and wildlife program, please go to:

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Last updated: Jun 01, 2012