The rough and tumble history of many small towns that started when the west was being settled can usually be read in their cemeteries. There must be some significance in the fact that Soap Lake did not have one until 1955. Maybe that buckaroo’s tale about the water was true after all.
But the heyday of Soap Lake came to an end when drought and depression swept the country. The annual rainfall in the area went from a precious 8 inches to a desperate 5 inches in 1933.
Farmers and stockmen in the county who had depended upon small but ambitious irrigation systems went under when the water dried up. Money was scarce everywhere and the tourist trade dwindled.
The county was at a standstill.
Hope returned to Grant County in 1933 when the Federal government decided to fund the construction of Grand Coulee Dam. People and money came flooding in as work began, and when the dam was completed in 1942, the town of Soap Lake had changed from the resort town in the raw west that it had been scarcely nine years earlier.
Two new state highways skirted the town, bringing tourists with their new prosperity. Soap Lake was now in the middle of a promising agricultural area made possible by the new irrigation district and Grand Coulee Dam. Only the most imaginative could forsee the changes to be brought to Grant County by the giant reclamation project.
One of these changes almost brought the end to the mineral water of Soap Lake.
When the reclamation project came into being, the long hoped for water seemed like a gift from heaven to this desert in the evergreen state.
No one imagined that there might ever be too much water, or that getting rid of excess irrigation water might be more difficult than getting it ever was. But, that was exactly the case less than ten years after the new irrigation canals first started flowing.
The level of Soap Lake had always fluctuated. Traces of an old Indian trail could be seen disappearing into the water at a point that once was dry land, and stories told by the oldest Indians to the first settlers indicated that it was once a very tiny lake.
Sage bush trunks are still rooted under water in some parts of the lake, proof the shallow period lasted many years. Photographs taken of the town in 1917 show that the shore line extended several hundred yards higher than it does today.
It was expected the water level would change with variations in yearly rainfall. However, at the beginning of the 1950s the citizens became aware that the lake level was steadily rising with no regard to seasonal rainfall.
The lake was receiving water from somewhere, and would overflow into the town if it was not stopped. Not only was the lake escaping its bounds, it was becoming diluted losing its valuable mineral content.
Since the town’s main source of income depended upon the mineral waters, it was only natural that the forthcoming battle was carried all the way to Washington, D. C. By the end of the 1950s, the invading seepage water was being intercepted by several wells and pumps, and the lake was saved.