History of the Shoshone Project

Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody made the area now occupied by the Shoshone Irrigation District (SID) famous in the early days of the West. Buffalo Bill and his companions were the first to perceive the possibilities of turning the sagebrush flats of Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin into a land of agricultural abundance through irrigation. In 1899 they acquired, from the State of Wyoming a right to appropriate waters from the Shoshone River for the irrigation of about 60,000 acres of public domain near Cody. As an initial step, they constructed a canal on the south side of the Shoshone River.

In 1903, the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners, with Cody’s approval, urged the Reclamation Service to complete the proposed irrigation development. The Reclamation Service engineers investigated the proposed project, and to obtain the maximum benefit from the flow of the river, recommended construction of a dam on the Shoshone River at the upstream end of the sheer-walled canyon 7 miles west of Cody, Wyoming. The Secretary of the Interior authorized the project on February 10, 1904, under authority of the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902. Construction of the project began in early 1904. The Shoshone Project is comprised of four divisions that include the Garland, Frannie, Willwood, and Heart Mountain Divisions. Buffalo Bill Dam and Reservoir is the storage facility for all four divisions. Buffalo Bill Dam was completed and began storing water in 1910.

The first lands opened to settlement and also the first to be provided with water in the project were in the Garland Division of the Shoshone Project, located in the vicinity of Powell, Wyoming. The Garland Division was constructed during the period 1904-1918. Water was first delivered to homesteaders on the district in April of 1908, prior to the completion of Buffalo Bill Dam. Reclamation operated the facilities in this division until irrigation was established. In 1926, at the urging of the Reclamation, the farmers of the Garland Division formed SID. In 1927 the newly formed district agreed to take over the operation and maintenance of the Garland Division and also entered into a repayment contract.

Location, and Features

Irrigation water is released from Buffalo Bill Dam into the Shoshone River through outlet gates at the dam and through three power plants downstream of the dam. Water for use within SID is diverted from the Shoshone River 16 miles below Buffalo Bill Dam by the Corbett Diversion Dam. The diversion dam is a concrete overflow weir structure with a height of 12 feet and a length of 400 feet. Irrigation water is then transported through the 3.3-mile-long Corbett Tunnel to the Garland Canal. The main canals of SID consist of the 18.5-mile-long Garland Canal and the upper 14 miles of the Frannie Canal. Water is diverted from the Garland Canal to the Frannie Canal at a diversion structure located approximately 11 miles below SID’s diversion at Corbett Diversion Dam. Initial capacity of the Garland Canal is approximately 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The initial capacity of the Frannie Canal is approximately 460 cfs. SID also consists of approximately 260 miles of distribution laterals, and 350 miles of maintained drains. The canals and laterals include numerous concrete control structures including check and drop structures. This canal system provides irrigation service to 36,009 certified irrigable acres for SID and approximately 15,119 acres for the Frannie Division, operated by Deaver Irrigation District (Deaver).

In the spring of 1982, SID completed a $5 million, 8-year R&B program. A total of 29 miles of laterals were placed in slip-form concrete lining and 81 miles of buried pipelines were installed. In addition, the District precast concrete division boxes and Parshall flumes for farm turnouts. Improvements to the 110 miles of laterals under this R&B program represented 42% of the Districts distribution system. In 1993, the four Districts of the Shoshone Project formed the Shoshone Irrigation Project Joint Powers Board (SIPJPB) and received a $7.5 million no interest loan from the USBR and a $7.5 million grant from the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) for a 6-year R&B program. SID’s share was approximately 38% of the $15 million. During this R&B program, SID replaced 27.5 miles of open ditch with buried concrete and PVC pipe and replaced 116 Farm turnouts with improved water measurement. SID also replaced 9 large drop structures on the main Garland Canal. Since 2002, SID has continued its efforts to repair and replace aging Infrastructure within the District. Sid has continued to apply for rehabilitation funding from the WWDC and has received $3,734,700 in grant monies to cover the cost of materials, completing the installation of 31.15 miles of open ditch with concrete or PVC pipe, 110 new farm turnouts with improved water measurement and completed the replacement of 11 more of the 31 large drop structures on the main Garland Canal. SID pays for the labor, equipment, and engineering for these projects from funds generated by the operation of a small hydropower plant located on the Garland Canal.

The district has a 5 member Board of Directors who are elected by the landowners of the district. The members of the Board of Directors must be landowners and each term is for three years. The staff consists of the Manager, a Secretary-Treasurer, three operators, a shop mechanic, a weed control supervisor and five ditch riders for a total of twelve employees.


Northwestern Wyoming is characterized by rolling hills covered with grasses and shrubs, consisting predominantly of sagebrush. In general, the entire area of the Bighorn Basin is well adapted for irrigation with a fairly uniform slope toward the Shoshone River and good drainage. The elevation at Powell is 4,389 feet.


Large-scale redirection of water by the project has significantly altered a semi-desert environment. Numerous wetlands on SID have come into existence overtime due to the application of water. These wetlands, typically water-saturated lowland areas, provide habitat for migratory and other aquatic birds and wildlife. In addition to the wetlands, fields and drains located within the district also provide productive upland bird habitat. At the present there is no program to manage the wetlands located on private lands, however, Ralston Reservoir is managed by the district in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish as part of a mitigation for a Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) funded Rehabilitation and Betterment (R&B) project completed in the 1980’s. Ralston Reservoir is a sixty-nine acre man-made wetland located approximately seven miles from SID’s diversion at Corbett Diversion Dam on the North side of the Garland Canal. The re-regulation reservoir was selected for its significant wildlife value, particularly for waterfowl. As part of the mitigation effort, a control structure was installed to maintain water levels in the reservoir year round. Before the control structure was installed, water levels each year would drop in the reservoir, following the end of the irrigation season. When irrigation was started the following April, reservoir levels would rise and the nesting sites of many birds each year would be flooded, resulting in the death of numerous hatchlings. In addition to the problems created for the birds during the spring prior to the installation of the check structure, previously Ralston Reservoir also created hardships for migratory birds in the fall. Following the end of the irrigation season in October each year, the water levels in the canal would again be depleted. The depletion of the reservoir during this period of the fall bird migration resulted in a habitat loss that is now prevented with the installation of control structures that maintain water levels year round.

Soils and Geology

The soils of the irrigable area are divided into two broad categories: (1) In the southern areas of the project, the soils generally consist of sandy loams one to three feet deep underlain by river deposited gravels in the historic stream meanders. (2) On the north side the soils are predominantly clay loam or clay underlain by shale or sandstone. Depths of these soils are sufficient for sustained irrigated agriculture with proper management.


SID residents enjoy four distinct seasons – spring, summer, fall, and winter. In Park County the average length of the growing season is 147 days. The thirty-year average annual precipitation during the irrigation season, April-September, is 5.64 inches. The mean annual temperature at Powell is 45.6°Fahrenheit (F) while the range is from a low of -46°F to a high of 105°F in 1936 and 1951, respectively. The middle of May is the average latest date of killing frost in the spring while the average earliest date of killing frost in the fall occurs in the latter part of September.


Each fall SID sends out a crop questionnaire to all landowners within the District. Of the questionnaires returned in 1999, malt barley accounted for the single largest acreage of crops produced in the district. Total barley production accounted for 8,079 acres. Sugar beets were the next largest crop in production at 2,997 acres. Other crops grown within the district in 1999 and associated acreages are as follows: Beans, dry and edible (2,378), Irrigated pasture (1,775), alfalfa hay (1,149), Alfalfa seed (996), other hay (361), corn (285), wheat (201), corn silage (134), feed barley (193), grass (73), oats (48), garden (47).


SID’s operation and maintenance (O&M) costs are based on a per acre assessment. Each farm has a per acre cost according to the acreage identified in the water right. The District in 2011 charged a base O&M assessment of $16.10. A $2.00 assessment was charged to cover the R&B work completed in the 1990’s, The district’s total annual assessment per acre in 2011 totaled $18.10. The 2011 assessment represented a $1.00 increase in the assessment, this was the first increase charged by the District in 17 years. Since 1993 the district had not been required to raise their annual assessment due to the income received from the operation of a small hydroelectric power plant located on the project. In 2011, in addition to the per acre assessment, the District also assessed each landowner a $75.00 land ownership fee and a $10.00 farm ownership fee. Again, in 2014, SID increased the per acre assessment another $2.00 for a total of 20.10 per acre. In 2016 the District raised assessments another $2.00 an acre for a total of 22.10 to help keep up with the rising costs of operating the District.

Operation and Maintenance

SID and the neighboring Deaver Irrigation District (Deaver) share the Garland and the Frannie Canals. By contract, SID supplies irrigation water for approximately 15,119 acres to Deaver Irrigation District, by transporting water through the Garland and Frannie Canals. Costs of canal maintenance are shared with Deaver paying approximately 70 percent of the costs incurred on the Frannie Canal, and approximately 30 percent of Garland Canal maintenance costs from Corbett Dam to the Frannie Canal bifurcation.

SID cleans and reshapes on average 20 miles of the main canal, 30 miles of laterals, and 15 miles of open drains annually. In addition, each year an average of 10-farm turnout measuring devices are also replaced or refurbished as needed.


Surface Water Supply

SID’s water supply is made up of a combination of natural flow, storage water, and water reused from drains. The district has a surface water appropriation for 512.94 cfs (priority 1899), issued by the State of Wyoming. The district received on December 23, 1996, appropriation for diverting water from four drains located within the district. The drains include Iron Creek (42 cfs), North Buck Creek (14.77 cfs), Alkali Creek Diversion (145.75 cfs), and North Branch Alkali Creek (69.30 cfs). The diversion rights for the drains total 271.82 cfs. The district’s water supply is further supplemented with storage water from Buffalo Bill Reservoir under contract with Reclamation.

The district usually begins the irrigation season by diverting natural flow early in the spring. SID then receives storage water when the irrigation demand exceeds the available natural flow. Storage water ordered by SID takes approximately five hours to arrive from Buffalo Bill Reservoir via the Shoshone River to the Corbett Diversion Dam.

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