The decade of the 1930’s was an era of large government building projects. Many undertaken to counter the economic hardships of the Great Depression. The 1930’s also saw the population and industrial development in the North Santiam Canyon finally reach levels that would economically justify a flood control project. So the Detroit Dam complex, which includes Big Cliff Dam, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938. Construction began in March 1949, several years after the Second World War and four years later in May 1953, the dam was finished.
Present Day Management of River Flow
Today, the Army Corps of Engineers still manage the dams to reduce the risk of flooding. The Corps manages river flow by timing the storage and release of water in Detroit Reservoir during the rainy season. They hold more water in the reservoir during high runoff times then release it gradually during dry months when the river run low and the danger of flooding is past. The Corps releases water from mid-April to the end of November for:
- power generation
- irrigation and
- to improve water quality and conditions for migrating and spawning fish
Water stored in Detroit Reservoir also supports an economically important recreation industry.