Facing a water crisis during the next half century the Bush administration has embarked on a secret plan to create the world's largest man-made lake in Idaho and Oregon. Tipped off to a secret URL on the Internet which contains plans and memos to and from state and federal agencies, Boise Weekly's investigation team has unveiled a fifty-year project that will not only change the face of Southwest Idaho, but the ecology, economy and environmental weather patterns of the nation.
Internal memos posted on the Web site, however, show a contentious and extremely political process happening behind closed doors reflective of the egos of politicians and heads of state that are involved.
This project is not a recent development. While shelved for many years it began in the heart of the Great Depression. During America's greatest economic tragedy in the 1930s the administration embarked upon a plan to put America back to work and to get something in return-infrastructure. The Army Corps of Engineers had been looking for potential sites to reroute rivers to control flooding, build bridges across impassable barriers such as rivers, lakes and canyons and to create reservoirs across the nation to save water for a growing population that needed water to grow food. The greatest engineering projects of their day were built using American labor. At the time Hoover Dam (then known as Boulder Dam) was the largest engineering project, the tallest dam ever built and it created the largest man-made lake in the world at the time.
Today, as the administration sees it, America is in a similar situation. Millions of Americans are out of work, 2.6 million jobs have been lost in the last four years and President George W. Bush has promised to put them back to work. There is a crisis in the American water supply and more reservoirs are needed to save water for the nation's growth. Finally, as memos from the secret Web site attest, we are in a dam race.
A chat posting by President Bush on the site says, "America has fallen behind with having the tallest, longest, biggest and largest things. The Chinese are about to match our feat of putting a man on the moon and they have already built the world's largest dam. We need to reclaim our spot in the world's eyes by building an even bigger dam. Not only that, we'll build the world's longest bridge to cross the lake. And we'll have American companies build it."
While Halliburton received the lion's share of contracts to rebuild Iraq, Boise-based Washington Group International (who received no small amount in Iraq rebuilding contracts) is earmarked to receive the contract to build the dam. It is no surprise. According to www.opensecrets.org, 79 percent of Washington Group International's political donations have been to the Republican Party, but administration officials defend their choice as being nonpartisan.
"Washington Group International is the logical choice," says Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton. "They built the Trans-Alaska pipeline, the Great Salt Lake causeway, the Diamond Valley Lake project-the largest earth-moving project in history, the I-15 corridor reconstruction for the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, the Alcan Power Project in Canada and even Hoover Dam in the 1930s. They have the experience to handle all aspects of this project."
Washington Group International has even created a new division-the DAM division, a source of good-natured jokes between federal officials and company executives.
Initial designs for the dam place it just above the confluence of the Snake River and the Salmon River in Hell's Canyon. The site was selected personally by President Bush "... to protect the original source of the salmon species which live in the Salmon River. Because fish need water to live in, and salmon are fish. But it's also the name of a river."
The dam also will be the world's tallest at 1,368 feet, the height of the taller of the two World Trade Centers-a decision that was not coincidental according to Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge. "This will be the most massive dam in the history of the world," he said. "We'll show those commie freaks that we can be better. Oh wait, I mean those terrorists."
In comparison, Hoover Dam, completed in 1936, is only 727 feet tall and 1,282 feet across at the top. At an estimated cost 100 times that of Hoover Dam-165 billion dollars-it will employ over 1 million people when the project factors in not only the construction of the dam but the cleanup of cities inundated by the lake and the rebuilding of highways, bridges and infrastructure over and around the lake.
The dam project expects to begin filling the lake by the first of April 2025. It will take 25 years to completely fill. Hell's Canyon will fill up first, taking over a decade before flood waters begin inundating farmland and populated areas. By 2050 Weiser should be under 470 feet of water. Payette will be 450 feet deep. Homedale will be 390 feet down. Caldwell submerged under 215 feet and Nampa goes under 110 feet.
On the western edge of Ada County both Eagle and Meridian will be partially submerged which has set off a naming war between the two city's mayors. Both are vying to be christened the "Venice" of the Northwest. Most of Eagle will be submerged by the time the lake fills up but Meridian is mostly above the predicted lake level of 2,600 feet. While Eagle will be a partially submerged city, Meridian will most likely be able to control the flooding through dikes and canals.
"We could be like Holland," says a Meridian city official, "but without all the tulips, windmills, marijuana and lesbians."
In comparison, the new lake, once full, will have a volume of 60 billion gallons of water, almost twice that of Lake Mead, currently America's largest man-made lake. The world's largest man-made lake is in Owen Falls, Uganda with 45 trillion gallons of water. While China's Three Gorges Dam will create a lake holding 412 billion gallons of water, it is pointed out by DOI officials that their dam is only 575 feet high and a mile across, a third the size of America's new proposed dam.
West Boise will be spared the inundation of water and only along the Boise River will some homes and parks be flooded. A Boise City Parks official said, "We'll probably have some good sculling water you can launch from Kathryn Albertson Park but it won't effect the summertime tubing, whose parking fees and tube rentals we rely on."
and the cities
China's Three Gorges Dam, once filled, will displace 1.2 million people and drown more than 100 towns. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland will be unusable and more than 1,300 known archeological sites dating to before Christ will be flooded.
"Proposed Bush Lake," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says, "will only displace about 500,000 people, flood only about 20 cities and towns and submerge only thirty or so archeological sites of no known value. The impact will be minimal."
Answering concerns regarding citizen's property, homes and real estate a rough draft FAQ (frequently asked questions) has been circulating among administration cabinet members and state officials. In it, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft notes that as early as 1795 the U.S. Supreme Court was citing situations of eminent domain as a reason for the government to take over private property as long as it was for public use. "This is a clear instance of such a need," he writes.
State officials including Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idaho Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch have all disputed a complete takeover of private property and have developed a revolutionary plan.
Working with Nevada Governor Kenny C. Guinn an acre-for-acre swap of land in northern Nevada will be made for citizens who are displaced in exchange for Nevada water rights to irrigate newly created farmland. Some state and federal lands will also be traded to citizens. This process has already begun.
Recent efforts to protect the foothills have resulted in land swaps for owners of acreage in areas that are desired to be preserved. While these trades for land may seem generous the lands traded for are all state lands which will be lakeside once Bush Lake fills, increasing the property value for the future generations that will inherit the land. A land rush is happening as well with developers and corporations eager to get shoreline property buying up acreage in the Owyhees and farmland in and around Kuna.
Concessions have been awarded to those involved to placate officials and "get them in line" with the secret project. For example, Governor Kempthorne is the current president of the Governor's Association and several years ago former Boise Mayor Brent Coles was president of the mirror organization for the nation's mayors. A chat posting on the secret site from a Republican National Committee chairperson said, "You don't think we'd ever hand over those offices to a podunk state like Idaho without us wanting something in return, would we?"
Tentative cities have already been marked on the map (see previous page) including Rischfield, Kempthorneville, Albertsonton, New Nampa, Nueva Caldwell and Bushland. Marked out on an early version of the map was Colesdale now replaced with Bieterburg.
"Since it will take 25 years to even begin flooding the area most families will have moved on, died or be on the next generation," says Department of Housing and Urban Development acting secretary Alphonso Jackson. "We can provide alternative homes for most people, like we did on the American Indian reservations when we moved all of them last century. The real problem is not moving the people but cleaning up and preparing the lake bottom. You'll have to talk to the EPA about that."
"Turning a swampy area into a lake is one thing," says EPA Administrator Michael O. Leavitt, "but flooding a populated area is an entirely different matter."
"With populated areas you have contaminants in the soil, septic tanks, sewage and water systems, buried fuel tanks, landfills and the buildings, my God, the buildings. All need to be removed, cleaned and made safe to be submerged in the lake."
The EPA estimates that it will be the biggest superfund cleanup site in the world to prepare the area for flooding and will be the greatest portion of the project's cost. Some environmental scientists within the administration say it cannot be done.
Insiders tell us that former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman resigned May 21, 2003 with the usual excuse of wanting more family time. However, our sources blame the controversy over cleanup of the new lake area to be the real issue. Rumor has it that Utah Governor Mike Leavitt was awarded water rights to the new lake in exchange for being named the new EPA head.
"Look around you," Whitman said in a phone interview last week. "Don't you see signs that this is already happening in your area? Isn't there an Idaho Water Center being built on Front and Broadway? What do you think is going in there? That's headquarters for managing the new lake cleanup. I think it's going to be a big mess."
While the cleanup may be the biggest issue involved with the new lake, according to Pentagon scientists it will have an even greater impact on future environmental planetary evolution.
"Did you ever wonder why Bush didn't sign the Kyoto Protocol?" a husky voice on the other end of our phone said last week. "It's not because there is global warming taking place and that America's breadbasket will dry up creating the next Sahara if nothing is done."
"Oh no," the voice continued, "It's because his scientists tell him that this lake, because of its sheer size will change global weather patterns and bring rain back to the Midwest just when it stops receiving moisture from the gulf." Then he hung up.
Despite criticism, the newly proposed Bush Lake will bring billions of dollars in new development, tourism and a proposed inland deep water nuclear submarine port with access through the bottom of the dam. It will bring forest to the Owyhees and foothills. New farmlands in Northern Nevada and Eastern Oregon, irrigated by the lake waters, will feed a growing nation in the century to come. New resorts and theme parks will grace its shores. Developer Rick Peterson, of the Boise Tower Project, has already said he plans to build the world's tallest building on its shores. It will be enjoyed by generations to come.
Since our investigation and calls to officials, access to the secret Web site has been denied, if not removed from the Internet altogether. Some officials speaking to us on a condition of anonymity say that the project is now under reconsideration based upon the leaking of information to our investigators. A decision to move ahead with the project will be made by April 1, 2005.