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Vale Project History (50 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Vale Project lands are located along the Malheur River and Willow Creek in east-central Oregon, surrounding the town of Vale. The project furnishes irrigation water to 35,000 acres of land. Features include Agency Valley Dam and Beulah Reservoir, Bully Creek Dam and Reservoir, Harper Diversion Dam, Vale Main Canal, and a distribution and drainage system. To supplement project needs, the Federal Government purchased one-half of the storage rights in the Warm Springs Reservoir built by the Warmsprings Irrigation District.

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The project stores water in Warm Springs, Beulah, and Bully Creek Reservoirs. The stored water in Warm Springs and Beulah Reservoirs, together with natural streamflow, is diverted from the Malheur River by the Harper Diversion Dam to the Vale Main Canal. This water supplies lands on the west side of the Malheur River from Kime to Vale, and along Willow Creek from Vale to the vicinity of Jamieson, Oregon. A siphon, 1.5 miles southwest of Little Valley, conveys water to the Little Valley Canal, on the east side of the Malheur River in the vicinity of Little Valley. Excess water from the Malheur River is diverted to Bully Creek Reservoir through the Vale Main Canal, and through the Bully Creek Feeder Canal that delivers water from the Main Canal, heading about 8 miles west of Vale, Oregon. Water stored in Bully Creek Reservoir is delivered by two laterals, one beginning at the outlet works of the dam and the other at Bully Creek Diversion Dam about a mile downstream from the reservoir.

Facility Descriptions

Warm Springs Dam

Warm Springs Dam is on the Middle Fork of the Malheur River about 13 miles southwest of Juntura, Oregon. The dam, constructed by the Warmsprings Irrigation District, is a 106-foot-high thin arch structure, and contains 19,500 cubic yards of concrete. The total capacity of the reservoir is 169,700 acre-feet (active 169,600 acre-feet). One-half of the storage in the reservoir was purchased for use on the Vale Project.

Agency Valley Dam

Located on the North Fork of the Malheur River near Beulah, Oregon, the Agency Valley Dam is a 110-foot-high zoned earthfill structure that contains 646,000 cubic yards of material. The total capacity of the reservoir is 59,200 acre-feet (active 59,200 acre-feet). The needle valves in the outlet works were replaced by jet flow gates in 1990 as part of the operation and maintenance modifications program.

Bully Creek Dam

Bully Creek Dam is located on Bully Creek about 8 miles northwest of the creek`s confluence with the Malheur River, and 9 miles northwest of Vale, Oregon. The dam is a zoned earthfill structure with a crest length of 3,070 feet and total height of 121 feet. The reservoir has a total capacity of 24,400 acre-feet (active 23,700 acre-feet).

Diversion Works, Canal, and Drainage Systems

Harper Diversion Dam, on the Malheur River 20 miles southwest of Vale, is a concrete slab with hinged steel gates and an embankment wing. The dam raises the water level of the river 12 feet for diversion into Vale Main Canal.

Vale Main Canal extends 74 miles from the diversion dam to a point near Jamieson. The canal has an initial capacity of 662 cubic feet per second.

Bully Creek Diversion Dam on Bully Creek has a hydraulic height of 4 feet and a crest length of 213 feet. The dam is a rockfill structure with a timber cutoff.

Laterals distribute the water to the land and surface and subsurface runoff is managed through an extensive drainage system.

Operating Agencies

The project is operated and maintained by the Vale Oregon Irrigation District. Operation and maintenance of Warm Springs Dam is the responsibility of the Warmsprings Irrigation District.

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Lands now included in the Vale Project were irrigated in 1881 by settlers who built small distribution systems that diverted water directly from the Malheur River. Independent ditch companies were formed as irrigated acreages increased, and by 1929 more than 63,000 acres were being irrigated.

The Warmsprings Irrigation District was organized in 1919 to build the Warm Springs Dam with private capital raised through the sale of bonds. While it was recognized at the time the dam was built that the reservoir capacity of 191,000 acre-feet would be in excess of the needs of the district, it was evident that this capacity could be provided at the lowest cost per acre-foot of water stored. Overestimates of the irrigable lands in the district were also a factor. The resulting too-liberal use of the surplus water and the lack of adequate drainage caused the water table to rise and reduced the area which could be farmed. At the same time, over application of irrigation water increased the need for drainage.


At the request of local interests, the Bureau of Reclamation began investigations in 1925 to determine the feasibility of developing a project in the area. A report was submitted which served as the basis for authorization of the initial project.

An irrigation project on Bully Creek was proposed about 1911 by private interests but proved infeasible. When investigations for the Bully Creek Extension were initiated by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1938, it was planned that the project would provide storage on Bully Creek at the Hendrix Reservoir site for about 7,045 acres of land within and adjacent to the existing Vale Project. Landowners in the Brogan area expressed a desire to be excluded from the project and, consequently, a revised 5,000-acre irrigation plan was approved by the Secretary of the Interior and sent to the President for approval in September 1943. The approval was not forthcoming because of the war emergency and scarcity of construction materials. In September 1957, the feasibility report on the extension that provided for increasing the project from 32,000 to 35,000 acres formed the basis for subsequent authorization.


The Vale Project was found feasible on October 20, 1926, by the Secretary of the Interior and approved by the President on October 21, 1926, pursuant to section 4 of the Act of June 25, 1910 (36 Stat. 836) and subsection B of section 4 of the Act of December 5, 1924 (43 Stat. 702). The authorized project is irrigation.

The Bully Creek Extension was authorized as a part of the Vale Project by the Act of September 9, 1959 (73 Stat. 478, Public Law 86-248). Irrigation, flood control, recreation, and the preservation and propagation of fish and wildlife are purposes of the Bully Creek Extension.


A contract between the Federal Government and the Vale Oregon Irrigation District was signed October 22, 1926. The contract provided for the purchase of one-half interest in Warm Springs Reservoir by the Bureau of Reclamation, construction of a diversion dam, main canal, branch canals, structures in connection therewith, and construction of necessary drainage works for the Warmsprings Irrigation District. Construction began on March 3, 1927.

The first units of the Vale Project (Harper and Little Valley) were opened to irrigation in 1930. The last unit to receive irrigation water was the Willow Creek unit in 1938. On March 28, 1932, a supplemental contract was executed with the Vale Oregon Irrigation District that provided for construction of Agency Valley Dam on the North Fork of the Malheur River to add storage needed for an adequate water supply. The dam was completed in 1935.

Facilities of the Bully Creek Extension, primarily Bully Creek Dam and Reservoir, Feeder Canal, Diversion Dam, and laterals, were constructed during 1962-1964.

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Almost 35,000 acres of sagebrush and rangeland have been transformed into productive farmland. Principal crops produced are grain, hay, pasture, sugar beets, sweet corn, and potatoes.


Bully Creek Reservoir lies in a narrow, curving valley bounded on both sides by steep hills. With 7 miles of shoreline, it is the smallest of the three reservoirs. Recreation facilities include a campground, swimming beach, and boat launching and mooring facilities. These facilities are operated by Malheur County. The reservoir fishery provides excellent catches of white crappie, yellow perch, and black bass. The reservoir is used as a resting place by migratory waterfowl with some ducks remaining to nest. Sparse vegetative cover of sagebrush and grass provides habitat for small mammals and birds.

Beulah Reservoir is nestled in Agency Valley, almost filling the small triangular valley. There are campgrounds and facilities for launching and mooring boats at the reservoir, which has a stocked trout fishery. A wide variety of migrating waterfowl use the reservoir, with heavy use by Canada geese. The thick vegetative cover, composed of sagebrush, grass, and occasional juniper, provides excellent wildlife habitat for mule deer and elk in addition to the small mammals and birds that are residents of the reservoir area.

Warm Springs Reservoir lies against the tall, steep hills on the eastern side of a broad valley. There are no recreation facilities at the reservoir, so primary use is fishing for black bass, yellow perch, and rainbow trout. Migrating waterfowl use the reservoir, and it is a part of the winter range for mule deer. The area is not heavily used, due in part to the sparse vegetation, mainly sagebrush.

Flood Control

Bully Creek Reservoir provides specific storage space for flood control purposes and is instrumental in reducing floods on the Malheur River that could cause considerable damage and losses, and in controlling flood damages along Bully Creek and on the Malheur River below the mouth of Bully Creek. The three reservoirs are operated on a coordinated forecast basis for flood control under an agreement of November 9, 1970, between the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

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 facilties in the Snake River Basin above Lower Brownlee Reservoir. The Vale Project is one of 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