Kerr Dam

Coordinates: 47°40′36″N 114°14′03″W / 47.67667°N 114.23417°W / 47.67667; -114.23417
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Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam
SQK Dam DSC 3657.jpg
Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam (2018)
LocationFlathead Indian Reservation, Lake County, Montana, USA
Construction began1930
Opening date1938
Operator(s)Energy Keepers Inc., Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Dam and spillways
ImpoundsFlathead River
Height205 ft (62 m)
Length751 ft (229 m)
Total capacity1,217,000 acre⋅ft (1.501 km3)
Catchment area8,587 sq mi (22,240 km2)
Surface area191.5 sq mi (496 km2)
Power Station
Commission date1938-1954[1]
Turbines3 units
Installed capacity208 MW[2]
Annual generation1,100 GWh annually

The Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam previously known as the Kerr Dam is a concrete gravity-arch dam located at river mile 72 of the Flathead River (116 river kilometer). Built in 1938, it raises the level and increases the size of Flathead Lake near Polson, Montana. The dam was designed to generate hydroelectricity but also serves recreational and irrigation uses.

The dam was originally named after Frank Kerr, president of the Montana Power Company, which undertook the construction, with federal assistance during the Great Depression. The construction provided numerous jobs at a critical time. The dam is located within the Flathead Indian Reservation, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes operated it jointly with successive electric companies. In 2015 the tribes and their energy company completed purchase of the dam. On September 5, 2015, during the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' celebration of their acquisition of the dam, the Tribal Council announced renaming the complex to reflect the three confederated tribes.[3]


Water flowing out of the Salish-Kootenai Dam through one of several gates

The dam project was privately undertaken by Rocky Mountain Power to generate hydroelectric power in the area; it started construction in 1930. But, with revenues declining because of the Great Depression, the company halted construction in 1931. Montana State Treasurer James Brett went to a meeting in Atlanta in 1934 to ask President Franklin D. Roosevelt for $5,000,000 to complete the dam. Knowing that the area was in desperate need of jobs, Roosevelt approved the money for the project; this was in keeping with his support of the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided jobs for infrastructure and public buildings across the country.

Brett returned to Montana and a hero's welcome. In 1936, the Montana Power Company restarted the project and completed it in 1938. The dam raised the existing Flathead Lake by 10 feet, and enabled control of the lake's level to generate electricity and for irrigation and recreational uses. The dam's hydro power plant consists of three units that receive water from three different penstocks, located 865 feet (264 m) upstream.[4]

In March 1927 Senators Burton K. Wheeler, Lynn Frazier and Robert La Follette blocked a bill that would have denied tribal ownership of the dam. "Senator Wheeler was always proud of the royalties he secured for the Flatheads."[5]

Joint operation and change of ownership[edit]

A rainbow forming over the Salish-Kootenai Dam in Montana

The dam and its related hydroelectric project are located inside the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation.[6] They were operated jointly by NorthWestern Energy and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. In the early 21st century, with an installed capacity of 208 MW, the dam provided enough power for about 147,000 homes and more than $9 million in annual revenue for the tribes. In 2015 NorthWestern Energy acquired the power plant from PPL Montana, LLC (the successor to the Montana Power Company).

Séliš Ksanka Ql’ispé Dam, formerly known as Kerr Dam, was completed in 1938. It dams the Flathead River a few miles below Flathead Lake southwest of Polson, Montana (2017)

On September 4, 2015, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) paid $18.2 million to purchase the Kerr Hydroelectric Project from NorthWestern Energy.[7] The tribally owned Energy Keepers, Inc (EKI) took ownership.[8] The tribes and EKI officially celebrated acquisition of the dam on September 5, 2015 with a ceremony held at Salish Kootenai College. They renamed the dam as Séliš Ksanka Ql’ispé Dam, reflecting the confederacy of tribes.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The plot of the novel Wind from an Enemy Sky by D’Arcy McNickle is centered around the construction of the Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Clock ticking down to Kerr Dam's historic takeover by Indian tribes". Missoulian. 25 April 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  2. ^ "NorthWest Hydro Acquisition" (PDF). NorthWest Energy. p. 3. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  3. ^ "Tribal council announces new name for dam", Streamed live by Salish Kootenai College, 5 September 2015.
  4. ^ Foust, Justin; Kruttoff, Benett. "Kerr Dam essay". The Lake County Montana Directory. Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  5. ^ Yankee of the West, pp 315-318. Octagon Books, June 1, 1977
  6. ^ McGregor Meadows Waterfowl Production Area Environmental Assessment (PDF) (Report). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. May 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-11-11.
  7. ^ McDonald, Rob (2015-09-04). "Energy Keepers, Inc., successfully pays conveyance price for Kerr Dam". Energy Keepers, Inc. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  8. ^ "Energy Keepers, Inc". Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  9. ^ Lipbscomb, Brian (2015-08-27). "We are ready: Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes prepare to assume control of Kerr Dam". Char-Koosta News. Char-Koosta News. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  10. ^ Vince Devlin (2012-03-28). "Film shares Arlee teacher's success at instilling tribal perspective". The Missoulian. Retrieved 2012-09-06.

External links[edit]

47°40′36″N 114°14′03″W / 47.67667°N 114.23417°W / 47.67667; -114.23417