"Building Tomorrow Today"

The Flood of 1951 acted as a cayalyst for the construction of Clinton Lake. The flood caused catastrophic damage across eastern Kansas. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a network of levees and reservoirs across the entire state of Kansas to prevent future flooding. These new flood control structures included Clinton Lake, which the Corps created by building a dam across the Wakarusa River, a tributary of the Kaw River. Located southwest of Lawrence, Clinton Lake ushered in an era of excitement and uncertainty for the residents of Douglas County. 

Regional supporters of the lake project included cities like Lawrence and Baldwin City, who hoped to gain access to a new water supply; business owners, who expected to profit from increased tourism; and the state of Kansas, which anticipated that reservoirs would benefit the economy. In short, many stakeholders viewed Clinton Lake as an investment in the future. Ed Dischner, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreational Division in Kansas City, described Clinton Lake as a means of “building tomorrow today.” However, opposition to Clinton Lake included members of several rural communities who experienced displacement after the Corps of Engineers purchased their property for the construction of the reservoir and the development of recreational facilities.

Clinton Lake, Kansas brochure.JPG

Map of Clinton Lake from informational brochure, published by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, 1997.

It is important to remember that Clinton Lake displaced more than just rural residents of the Wakarusa River Valley. The process of artificial lake building results in the forced displacement of different groups of peoples at different moments in time. Yet this process cannot be viewed from a static perspective. Dispossession is not merely an event; it is a process that continues long after initial physical removal. Beginning in the 1800s, Native American Nations located within the Wakarusa River Valley were forecefully removed from their federally promised lands in order to make room for white settlers. This included the Kaw Nation (whose ancestral homelands included the river valley) along with tribes relocated from the East (namely the Shawnee and Delaware). Therefore, Clinton Lake serves as a force of continuous dispossession. Flooding the land removes any future opportunity for communities, both Native and non-Native, to return to their homes and restore their sense of historical, cultural, and spiritual connection to that place.