Gen. George W. Goethals, the builder of the Panama Canal, accepted an offer to make an extensive survey of another massive project: the proposed Columbia Basin irrigation project.
For a fee of $20,000, Goethals agreed to come to Spokane in February 1922 to make a report on the project’s feasibility and costs.
Proponents hoped that Goethals would bring instant credibility to the controversial project. He would “bring it conspicuously to the attention of the United States and the world.”
“Moreover, he will tell us the best and most economical way to build it,” said a member of the Columbia Basin committee. “On the other hand, if General Goethals should say that the project is not feasible, I think the state will accept his judgment as decisive and we can turn our thoughts and efforts to other developments. My confidential belief is that General Goethals will find the project feasible and highly meritorious, and that it will have his enthusiastic approval.”
One of his most important tasks was deciding which of two competing plans was more worthy. One plan called for drawing water from the Pend Oreille River and sending it hundreds of miles west into the arid Columbia Basin through a series of canals and tunnels. The other plan called for building a giant dam on the Columbia River at Grand Coulee.
Goethals would eventually produce a report favoring the Pend Oreille plan, but his support was not sufficient to bring that plan to fruition.
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(From Associated Press)
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