By the 1930s, America could be seen from two very different perspectives.

One perspective is that of a relatively youthful nation coming of age in the world. Over the previous 130 years, America had grown from an agrarian society to one which used its wealth of natural resources and labor to embrace the industrial revolution. Westward expansion had brought America to the Pacific Ocean, the Civil War assured the union of the states, and World War I further established America as an international power.

A second perspective is one of poverty and uncertainty. With the stock market crash of 1929, droughts never experienced before and high unemployment, the 1930s were a time of crisis. In the Columbia Basin area, 40 percent of those that had come to till the soil had fled.

A new president, Franklin Roosevelt, announced a New Deal. Public works projects were developed to put America back to work again and invigorate investment in its resources. One of the largest and most ambitious projects was the building of Grand Coulee Dam. The first stakes were driven into the ground in 1933, and in 1935 Congress authorized the Columbia River Basin Project for irrigation, river regulation, power generation and other beneficial purposes. Its operations have grown to a size even beyond the imagination of those that first developed this extraordinary plan.

The economic benefits of the project are breathtaking. Over 600,000 acres of irrigation land that yields crops valued at $400 million annually; 6,800 megawatts of power capacity meets the needs of over four million residential customers annually; flood control saves billions of dollars in damage to downstream communities like Portland; and a National Recreation Area serving up to 1.5 million visitors a year.

These changes, however, also brought dramatic cultural and environmental shifts. With the building of Grand Coulee Dam, and then Chief Joseph Dam, salmon could no longer migrate to and from this area. The waters behind the dam rose 380 feet, inundating many tribal and non-tribal lands. Of particular cultural significance was the inundation of Kettle Falls, a focal point for catching salmon and social gatherings. For the Spokane Tribe, Spokane Falls played a similar role. Although not inundated, its place as a center of activity passed into history. Mitigating the cultural and environmental consequences of development is an ongoing challenge.

Lake Roosevelt is currently managed cooperatively through an agreement among between the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Spokane Tribe of Indians.