Big Bend Dam

Big Bend Dam began operating in 1964 as one of the six large federal dam and reservoir projects on the upper Missouri River that, as a system, reduces flood risks for the populations and urban and agricultural properties downstream. When not operating to reduce flood impacts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages this mainstem system of dams and reservoirs to balance hydropower generation, water supply, water quality, irrigation, fish and wildlife conservation, navigation, and recreation benefits. 

Slide show

The River Basin Balancer Game offers insight into an inland waterway and a system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which many USACE reservoirs are authorized and constructed. Users can take charge of river operations and experience the unique challenges presented when managing reservoir operations in a variety of weather conditions across a geographically diverse basin.

Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! Prevent invasive species Water Safety Reserve a campsite at USACE campgrounds at Purchase Navigation and Boating Maps from the Jefferson National Parks Association

Big Bend Dam News

Big Bend campgrounds opening Thursday
Campgrounds and boat ramps operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Big Bend Project, South Dakota, will open Thursday after being closed to protect against the further spread of COVID-19; this...
Corps of Engineers announces closure of boat ramps near Big Bend Dam
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in coordination with the Crow Creek Sioux and Lower Brule Sioux tribes are closing the boat ramps near Big Bend Dam, near Fort Thompson, South Dakota, effective...
Corps closes visitor centers, suspends tours
Due to health and safety precautions regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus), all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Omaha District Visitor Centers will be closed and all public group tours and events and have...


Location: Near Chamberlain, S.D., River Mile 987.4

Big Bend Dam takes its name from the unique bend in the Missouri River seven miles upstream from the dam. At this point in its course, the Missouri makes almost a complete loop, traveling 25 miles before returning to the "neck" where the land is only about one mile wide. Lake Sharpe is named for former South Dakota Governor, Merrill Q. Sharpe, who was instrumental in implementing the construction of USACE dams on the Missouri River.

The dam consists of an earthen embankment, a powerhouse, and eight gates on a concrete-lined spillway. During normal operations, USACE releases water through the powerhouse to generate power and balance reservoir levels for other uses. As operations shift to reducing flood risks during periods of high runoff, USACE dam operators release more water through the spillway gates.

More information about the project’s features are available here.

This graphic illustrates the how the water storage capacity of the six upper Missouri River dams compares among that of other USACE reservoirs in the continental United States
Water releases through the Big Bend Dam powerhouse (foreground) and eight spillway gates (upper right) reduce the likelihood of water flowing over the dam’s earthen embankment. The dam and reservoir are one of six projects built on the mainstem of the upper Missouri River which, in combination with dams on the river’s tributaries, reduce the risk of downstream flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Operating for many benefits

Big Bend Dam and Lake Sharpe provide many benefits to the local and regional public and to the nation. These include reducing the loss of life and property damage from floods, producing hydropower, and providing benefits to recreation, irrigation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and commercial navigation. The dam can generate 494,320 average kilowatt hours a year.

The public land and water of the project also provide a wide variety of recreational activities, such as fishing, boating, and camping.


Lake Sharpe provides many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Recreation areas vary from primitive to highly developed areas like the Left Tailrace area located below the dam. Facilities at the Left Tailrace include campsites with electrical hookups, comfort stations with showers, a dump station, boat ramp, fish cleaning station, courtesy dock, picnic shelters, tables, grills, drinking water and playground.

Fishing downstream of the Big Bend Dam powerhouse is one of many ways to spend the day on the public land and water around the dam. Lake Sharpe provides a wide variety of recreational options for fishing and boating.
Collapse All Expand All
 Getting Here:

From Pierre: East on Hwy 34, South at Hwy 47, west on North Shore Road

From Chamberlain: North on Hwy 50, West on Hwy 34 and west on North Shore Road

1.5 miles southwest of Fort Thompson, South Dakota on Highway 47

 Hunting and Fishing:

Fishing is a very popular activity on Lake Sharpe and in the tailwater area. Walleye is the primary sport fish although sauger, small mouth bass, white bass, channel catfish, and northern pike are also fished from the lake.

Fishing Locations and Time


  • When: Early May to late June; mid September through November
  • Where: Tailwater, Lake Sharpe

Small & Largemouth Bass

  • When: May, June, September & October
  • Where: Tailwater, Lake Sharpe

Crappie-Northern Pike

  • When: Early April after ice out; late fall.
  • Where: Stilling basin, Tailwater


  • When: Late June, July, August
  • Where: Tailwater

Big Bend Dam Area Fishing Regulations

Residents of South Dakota

  • Tribal licenses not required unless fishing inland on reservation soil.

Nonresidents of South Dakota

  • South Dakota- Nonresident License:
  • Tribal licenses not required unless fishing on reservation soil.

Big Bend Tailrace - Boats not allowed below Big Bend Dam for 500 feet.


All public lands around the Lake Sharpe and the Missouri River are open to hunting, except for developed recreation areas.

 Visitor Center Schedule Information (Dates/Times):

Call (605) 245-2255. There is no visitor center on site. Project tours are by special appointment only.

 Dam and Powerplant Tour Schedule information (Dates/Times):

Due to increased security, visitors for powerhouse tours must arrive 15 minutes prior to the tour and visitors over 18 years old must show a government issued photo ID.

Tours are available:

Weekdays: Call (605) 245-2255. Tours are by special appointment only.

Weekends & Holidays: Call (605) 245-2255. Tours are by special appointment only.

Off-season or groups of 10 or more: Call (605) 245-2255. Tours are by special appointment only.

Reducing Flood Risks

During normal operations, USACE releases up to 103,000 cubic feet of water per second through the powerhouse. One cubic foot of water, or cfs, is equal to 7.5 gallons. The spillway was designed to additionally release up to 390,000 cfs. For perspective, the largest release of water from Big Bend Dam as a result of flooding was a combined 166,300 cfs from the powerhouse and spillway in 2011. It is important to understand that the dam is designed to release up to 493,000 cfs when necessary and that dams do not eliminate flood risk.

At Big Bend Dam, eight spillway gates hold and release water to help reduce downstream flooding on the Missouri River.
Project staff at Big Bend Dam walk below a huge spillway gate during a dam safety inspection.
Invasive zebra mussels, found on the wire ropes that lift and lower Big Bend Dam’s spillway gates to help reduce downstream flooding, can compromise how well these wire ropes can work when needed. Washing off your boat before moving it from one waterway to another is a critical to helping reduce further impact on critical regional infrastructure.
Collapse All Expand All
 Maintaining the dam

As part of its Dam Safety Program, Omaha District conducts detailed engineering analyses to ensure its dams are safe and that risks to the public, property, and the environment are minimized to the extent possible. Dam safety standards and practices are continually updated to improve the maintenance and operation of dams to ensure they can safely serve their original purposes. In addition, dam safety engineers across federal and state agencies share information as they learn about the performance of flood risk reduction structures built over many decades. They now use more precise, modern technologies and apply up-to-date science to reduce flood risk more effectively.

Big Bend Dam is operating as designed but in the unlikely case of uncontrolled reservoir releases, significant consequences could impact downstream populations, including numerous urban centers along the Missouri River. Omaha District completed several risk reduction actions at Big Bend Dam after the flooding of 2011.  These include the installation of additional instrumentation to enhance foundation monitoring and upgrades to key foundation drainage systems (as well as installation of additional drains) to prevent water from eroding the dam’s foundation. Numerous repairs also were  made to the spillway to improve its resiliency during future flood events.

Visit the National Inventory of Dams to learn more about how dams work and Big Bend Dam risk assessments.


People have inhabited the shores of the Missouri River for thousands of years.  As the environment changed over the millennia, so did the methods early people utilized to survive. Early groups inhabited isolated locations such as wooded draws and terraces which offered protection from the elements and access to food sources. By the time European explorers arrived in this area in the 18th century , earth lodge villages of the Arikara tribes lined the bluffs along the river. Eventually, the Arikara were gradually displaced by Dakota and Lakota people moving into the area from the east.

 It is this mix of Arikara villages and Dakota and Lakota encampments that the Lewis and Clark expedition encountered upon reaching the Big Bend region on September 19, 1804. Their journals are filled with vivid descriptions of the area and its inhabitants.

During the first part of the 19th century, the history of Big Bend was one of exploration and trading. Trading posts and military forts were soon established as people arrived by boat up the Missouri. Scattered early white settlements began at this time.

The northeast end of the dam is located near the site of Fort Thompson, a reservation headquarters established in 1863 for Santee Sioux and Winnebago agencies.

The Santee and Winnebago Tribes were soon relocated further downstream, and in 1865 the Lower Yanktonai, a subdivision of the Dakota tribe, were gathered on the reservation.

The towns of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule were relocated to their present sites in the early 1950's before the old town sites were flooded due to the construction of the Fort Randall Dam.

Big Bend Dam was constructed under the Pick- Sloan Plan for development of the Missouri River Basin. During the peak construction period, a work force of 1,300 people was involved in the construction of the dam.

Today, approximately 80,000 acres of public lands and water provide a variety of benefits to the public including flood control, recreation, conservation of our natural resources, fish and wildlife habitat, irrigation, and hydropower production.

It is possible to view many types of wildlife on the Missouri River at Lake Sharpe. Tribal bison herds can be seen grazing the lake area's grasslands north of the towns of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule. The shoreline areas of the lake also offer excellent waterfowl, upland game birds and big game hunting opportunities. Big game animals include whitetail and mule deer, elk, bison, coyotes and wild turkeys. Waterfowl and upland game birds include ducks, geese, pheasants, prairie chickens, and grouse. Hunting regulations are established and enforced by the State of South Dakota, and the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Tribes.