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Webster Unit

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Pick Sloan Missouri Basin Program
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Webster Unit History (57 KB) (pdf)
General Description | Plan | Development | Benefits
General Description

The Webster Unit of the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program is located between Woodston and Osborne, Kansas, on the north side of the South Fork of the Solomon River. Webster Dam, 8 miles west of the city of Stockton, is the principal feature of the unit. The unit provides flood control for areas downstream of the dam, irrigation water to 8,500 irrigable acres of the Webster Irrigation District No. 4, fish and wildlife conservation and enhancement, and recreation opportunities. The Woodston Diversion Dam, four pumping plants, Osborne Canal, laterals, and drains complete the facilities which make up the unit.

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Unit lands are served by the Osborne Canal which originates at the Woodston Diversion Dam about 16 miles downstream from Webster Dam. Pumping plants lift water from the canal to small tracts that would not otherwise be accessible for water from the unit. The water is conveyed to these lands by laterals and to other unit areas by gravity-fed laterals.

Facility Descriptions
Webster Dam

Webster Dam is on the South Fork of the Solomon River adjacent to the original townsite of Webster in Rooks County, Kansas. It is a modified homogeneous earthfill embankment 10,720 feet long with a structural height of 154 feet. An earthfill dike fills a low saddle to the northwest of the left end of the dam.

The spillway is located on the left abutment of the dam. It is a concrete structure with an overflow section controlled by three large radial gates. The spillway has a maximum capacity of 138,000 cubic feet per second.

The outlet works through the dam are located on the north bank of the river immediately south of the spillway. The outlet works are used to release water to the stream for downstream requirements and for diversion into the Osborne Canal at Woodston Diversion Dam.

The Webster Reservoir has a total capacity of 260,740 acre-feet, of which 72,070 acre-feet are for irrigation and 183,370 acre-feet are for flood control.

Woodston Diversion Dam and Canal System

The Woodston Diversion Dam is located on the South Fork of the Solomon River about 1.5 miles west of Woodston. It is a concrete ogee-type spillway 151 feet long with an embankment wing 2,150 feet long. The dam has a hydraulic height of 14 feet. The concrete spillway section has a maximum capacity of 14,000 cubic feet per second. The dam diverts water into the Osborne Canal, which is 32.6 miles in length and has an initial capacity of 161 cubic feet per second. The canal, a lateral system totaling 29.9 miles in length, and four pumping plants serve the 8,500 acres of unit lands (the canal turnouts and laterals serve 7,307 acres and the pumps serve 1,193 acres). The four pumping plants are used for land which cannot be fed by gravity. There are approximately 2 miles of drains which serve the unit.

Operating Agencies

Webster Dam and Reservoir are operated and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation. Operation of the reservoir is coordinated with others in the Kansas River Basin. The Corps of Engineers furnishes data and operational procedures for regulation of water in the flood control capacity.

Webster Irrigation District No. 4 operates and maintains the irrigation facilities. Both the Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission and the Kansas State Park and Resources Authority are involved in the management of recreation and fish and wildlife interests at the reservoir and diversion dam, surface waters, and adjacent lands set aside for those purposes.

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Settlement in Osborne County started in 1869 and Rooks County was settled 2 years later.

In 1874, destruction of crops by grasshoppers caused a temporary setback in Osborne County, but in 1880 the population of the two counties had increased to 20,630.

The hope of a prosperous era, encouraged by good crop yields obtained during the 1880`s, turned to disappointment during the following years when it became apparent that periods of favorable precipitation were to be interrupted frequently by droughts. Recurrent cycles of wet and dry years resulted in a corresponding fluctuation from farm settlement to abandonment of the farms.

The present Webster Unit has been dry-farmed since the initial settlement, except for a few farms on the South Fork of the Solomon River and its tributaries where small pumping plants were installed to irrigate the fields. These pumps and the irrigation systems were experimental and, for the most part, did not result in permanent installations. Interest in irrigated agriculture lagged because when the river water was most needed, the river generally was low and the water was of poor quality.


The need for a multiple-purpose project became apparent as the area became settled and the floods and droughts continued. At the requests of local authorities, the Bureau of Reclamation initiated investigations in the vicinity of the present unit in 1939. The Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with these investigations, indicated that there would be substantial benefits from flood control, together with those available from irrigation and other uses.

The magnitude of the unprecedented flood of July 1951 demonstrated the necessity for regulation and control of the water resources of the basin and sparked public demand for adequate flood control. Investigations were accelerated, and modifications of the initial plan of development resulted in more than doubling the flood control capacity of the reservoir.

The plan for irrigation was presented in a definite plan report, which was approved in February 1957, after authorization of the flood-control plan.


The unit was authorized by the Flood Control Acts of December 22, 1944, and July 24, 1946.


Construction of Webster Dam was commenced in January 1953 and was completed in June 1956. Construction of Woodston Diversion Dam was started in June 1957 and completed in February 1959. Osborne Canal was started in March 1958 and completed in April 1961.

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The irrigable lands in the unit are fertile and highly productive. Before irrigation, wheat was the main source of cash farm income. Under irrigation, principal crops are corn, grain sorghum, and silage. With a dependable feed supply available, raising and fattening cattle and hogs have become important industries.

Recreation, Fish & Wildlife

Picnicking, camping, swimming, boating, fishing, and hunting are the principal recreational activities at Webster Reservoir, Woodston Diversion Dam, and surrounding areas. The area at Woodston Diversion Dam is managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks as a wildlife management area. The site consists of 254 land acres and 10 acres covered by water and wildlife including pheasant, waterfowl, deer, and dove. The recreational facilities are managed by the Kansas Park and Reservoir Authority, and the wildlife areas are managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Flood Control

Webster Dam and Reservoir provide a high degree of flood protection for the South Fork of the Solomon River, materially assist in the reduction of flood damages in the lower Solomon River Valley, and contribute to flood protection of the valleys of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. Webster Reservoir is allocated a flood control capacity of 260,740 acre-feet and, as of 1998, has prevented $105.3 million in flood damages.

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Last updated: May 11, 2011