The Bassano Dam, owned and operated by the Eastern Irrigation District (EID), is located approximately six kilometers southwest of the Town of Bassano at the area on the Bow River known as Horseshoe Bend. Since 1914, water from the Bow River has been diverted from this location into an intricate irrigation conveyance system to serve irrigated agricultural land within the District’s boundaries. Construction of the Bassano Dam began in September 1910 and was completed in the spring of 1914. The official opening took place on May 2, 1914, with a total construction cost of just over $1.4 million.
The Bassano Dam was designed by CPR Engineer Hugh B. Muckleston and is considered an Ambursen type dam, coming from its hollow design. In this type of dam, the pressure of the water acts with the weight of the structure to assist instead of oppose its stability against sliding, rupture, and overturning. Upon completion of construction in 1914, the Bassano Dam was noted as one of the most important structures of its kind in the world due to its composite character (the spillway and earthen embankment), as well as the spillway’s length, foundation, and depth of water which could flow over the crest during flood periods.
In 1935, a group of farmers in the Brooks area acquired the Bassano Dam and the canal system from the CPR, forming the Eastern Irrigation District. After 70 years of operation, the original structure was beginning to deteriorate. In the 1980’s, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) rehabilitated the Bassano Dam by rebuilding the upper (above ground) concrete for the spillway and adding a 400 meter long fuse plug near the west end of the earthen dam, bringing the dam up to safety standards of the day. Refurbishing work began in January 1985 with 2.5 years required to complete the project. This major facelift cost 14 million dollars with the end result being a very modern, motorized dam capable of diverting 100 m³/s (3,500 cfs) into the District’s water system.
In 2008, the Eastern Irrigation District undertook another upgrade on the Bassano Dam structure with all gate motors having been replaced and automated to a computer software system. This brought control and monitoring of the dam into the digital age, allowing the Dam Supervisor to respond to the flows of the river and demands from the water users at the click of a button, contributing to the efficient management of the Bow River.
Virtually all the water found and used within the boundaries of the EID originates from the Bow River at the Bassano Dam. This includes water to irrigate over 123,429 ha (305,000 ac) of farmland, water to feed over 12,000 ha (26,000 ac) of managed wetland habitat, water requirements for local industry, and the domestic needs of a population base close to 22,500 people.
The Bassano Dam was very noteworthy in 1914 for its unusual structure and capacity. The dam is a symbol of the challenges faced by the early pioneers to overcome obstacles and make irrigation farming a viable and prosperous agricultural enterprise in Western Canada.
To book a tour please call the Eastern Irrigation District at 403-362-1400.