History of the Moses Lake Area

The City of Moses Lake, Moses Lake and Moses Coulee were named for Columbia-Sinkiuse tribal leader Chief Moses (1829-1899). For centuries the tribal peoples camped along the shores of Moses Lake collecting roots and the eggs of waterfowl. With the arrival of white settlers competition for access to natural waterways created an uneasy tension in the basin surrounding Moses Lake. Traditional Native lands gave way to livestock range. Not long after, private irrigation replaced grazing lands with a patchwork of orchards.

Moses Lake, originally platted as Neppel in 1911, gave birth to a highly profitable lakeside orchard industry. However, growth of the tiny town was limited by battles over water rights and the withering effects of the Great Depression. As the apple market crashed the orchards were pulled up and replaced by fields of potatoes and onions. A carp seining operation, cheese factory and several other private enterprises were also abandoned during the slump.

By 1913, legal entanglements over the distribution of lake water had effectively choked community growth. In the absence of any herd law, horses, cows and pigs ran unchecked through the dusty streets, and the town’s narrow wooden sidewalks fell into disrepair. On the morning of the Grant Realty Company’s big land auction signs from competitor Stade Orchard Tracts appeared all over town saying “You may buy the land, but you cannot buy the water – we own it.” Land sales in Neppel went largely unrealized until water rights were reassigned to the Moses Lake Irrigation District in 1929. The district’s newly won water rights allowed them to build a dam impounding 50,000 acre feet of irrigation water.

Undeterred by hard times, the 300-some residents worked together to improve life in Neppel. Several local businessmen formed a commercial club which influenced the construction of Highway 10, Washington’s Sunset Highway, ending decades of isolation. The club also organized support for the budding Columbia Basin Irrigation Project and Grand Coulee Dam. The town, newly incorporated as Moses Lake in 1938, became the fastest growing community in Washington State. The arrival of the Moses Lake Army Air Base (later renamed Larson Air Force Base), a new tourism industry, and abundant irrigation water fueled an agricultural boomtown as Moses Lake morphed into the population and service center of the Columbia Basin.

For a more comprehensive history of Moses Lake, visit:

Center for Columbia River History - Moses Lake
HistoryLink.org - Chief Moses
HistoryLink.org - Moses Lake
HistoryLink.org - Larson Air Force Base/Grant County International Airport
Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District - History
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation - Columbia Basin Project

chief moses
neppel on moses lake
Images courtesy of the Moses Lake Museum & Art Center. 

Community Profile

City Features
The City of Moses Lake is a vibrant community in central Washington built along the shores of a lake of the same name.  Residents and visitors enjoy Moses Lake's many parks, exceptional recreational amenities, and more than 300 days of sunshine each year.


Population (2016)  22,250  Population growth rate, 2000 to 2010 36.2%
Households (2015)  7,847  Population under 18 years old 29.6%
Businesses (2007)  1,695  Population age 65 and older 12.3%

Demographic Links

City Facts

Date of Incorporation  1938 Moses Lake School District Library
The Moses Lake Library belongs to the North Central Regional Library
system serving 28
communities in a 5-county region.
Form of Government  Council/Manager Elementary Schools 10
Total area (incl water)  21 sq mi (2014) Middle Schools  3
Number of Parks  30 (375 acres) High School  1
Miles of streets  110 Technical Skill Center  1
Miles of water mains  170 MLSD website
Miles of sewer mains  163


Warmest month
Average high
Average low
88 F
60 F
Record high temperature
Record low temperature
115 F (1961)
-24 F (1950)
Coolest month
Average high
Average low
33 F
21 F
Average number of days
with more than 0.01 inches
of precipitation
68 days
Average annual
less than 8 inches Average number of days
with 1" or more snow depth
24 days
Average total snowfall 13 inches