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Water and American Government

Water and American Government: The Reclamation Bureau, National Water Policy, and the West, 1902-1935

Donald J. Pisani
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Water and American Government
    Book Description:

    Donald Pisani's history of perhaps the boldest economic and social program ever undertaken in the United States--to reclaim and cultivate vast areas of previously unusable land across the country—shows in fascinating detail how ambitious government programs fall prey to the power of local interest groups and the federal system of governance itself. What began as the underwriting of a variety of projects to create family farms and farming communities had become by the 1930s a massive public works and regional development program, with an emphasis on the urban as much as on the rural West.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92758-2
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. [Maps]
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. 1 Saving Lost Lives Irrigation and the Ideology of Homemaking
    (pp. 1-31)

    On June 1, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Reclamation Act into law—often called the Newlands Act in honor of the legislation’s sponsor in the House of Representatives, Francis G. Newlands of Nevada.¹ The legislation directed the national government to construct irrigation projects in sixteen western states and territories. It entrusted the job to the Reclamation Service, which was created within the Interior Department’s United States Geological Survey. Money from sales of public land paid for the first projects. To prevent some parts of the West from securing federal aid at the expense of others, at least 51 percent...

  7. 2 The Perils of Public Works Federal Reclamation, 1902–1909
    (pp. 32-64)

    “There is probably no law on the statute books,”Forestry and Irrigationeditorialized in 1906, “which puts in the hands of a single official of government such unlimited powers of expenditure as the [Reclamation Act].”¹ In theory, the secretary of the interior selected new projects, determined the size of farms, withdrew from entry public lands needed for projects or towns, purchased or condemned private property, determined construction costs and the amount each farmer owed the government, approved construction contracts, set operation and maintenance charges, decided how rapidly new farmers should open their land to irrigation and how much land they...

  8. 3 Case Studies in Irrigation and Community Twin Falls and Rupert
    (pp. 65-95)

    This book mainly concerns national water policies, but those policies cannot be understood solely from the perspective of Washington, D.C. Water policy exemplifies the dictum that all politics in the United States is local. Therefore, this chapter looks at two agricultural communities in the Snake River Valley of Idaho in the opening years of the twentieth century, one at Twin Falls and the other at Rupert. It analyzes irrigation as a matter private and public, local and national, and rural and urban. It shows the constraints that limited the nature and implementation of natural resource laws at all levels of...

  9. 4 An Administrative Morass Federal Reclamation, 1909–1917
    (pp. 96-122)

    During the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1901–09), the Reclamation Service led a charmed life. Most of its irrigation projects were planned or designed during Roosevelt’s first term, but few were finished before he left office. The problems that were to plague federal reclamation over the next few decades did not become public until 1908 or 1909. Tension developed between advocates of centralized and local control and affected all facets of reclamation, from the selection of projects, to the awarding of construction contracts, to the creation of filing and bookkeeping systems. Like the Forest Service, the Reclamation Bureau attempted to...

  10. 5 Boom, Bust, and Boom Federal Reclamation, 1917–1935
    (pp. 123-153)

    During the 1920s, federal reclamation clashed with powerful trends in American agriculture. In many parts of the nation, mechanization and new methods of cultivation resulted in the withdrawal from production of marginal and inferior lands. The abandonment of farms continued. From 1900 to 1920, the nation’s agricultural products increased in value by 300 percent, and the value of its farmland by nearly 400 percent. Nevertheless, the urban population grew three times faster than the rural population in the first decade of the century, and in the second decade of the century nearly five times faster. In the third decade of...

  11. 6 Uneasy Allies The Reclamation Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs
    (pp. 154-180)

    Irrigation was sold to the nation as a cure-all for the social and economic problems that afflicted the United States during and after the depression of the 1890s, but it also played a large part in the campaign to amalgamate Indians into white society. The leaders of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the first agency to construct irrigation projects on federally managed land, hoped that irrigation would keep agricultural Indians on their land and persuade nomadic Indians to settle in one place. Small irrigated farms would strengthen the nuclear family by utilizing the labor of children as well as parents....

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 7 Case Studies in Water and Power The Yakima and the Pima
    (pp. 181-201)

    Prior to contact with whites, few Native Americans depended exclusively on hunting, farming, or gathering. Most practiced a mixed or balanced economy, which gave them at least limited agricultural experience. Compared to Indians living in the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming, the Pima of southern Arizona and the Yakima (or Yakama) of south-central Washington enjoyed nature’s favor. Native Americans who lived in Arizona’s forbidding Sonora Desert required irrigation to survive, but the desert soil was rich and productive, capable of cultivation all year long. Residents of the Yakima Valley enjoyed a temperate climate and diverse flora and fauna. Nearby mountains and...

  14. 8 Wiring the New West The Strange Career of Public Power
    (pp. 202-234)

    In 1902, most westerners embraced the Jeffersonian maxim that the expansion of cities inevitably led to the decline of the countryside. Yet they also assumed that industry could not develop without a sound agricultural foundation or base. For the West to “modernize,” and for it to free itself from dependence on the East, it had first to become a land of family farms. By the 1920s, however, hydroelectric power held out the hope that industry could develop without small farms, or that the two could develop simultaneously. The West lacked significant deposits of high-grade coal, but it contained plenty of...

  15. 9 Gateway to the Hydraulic Age Water Politics, 1920–1935
    (pp. 235-271)

    Federal water policy in the 1920s was a complicated mosaic. Chapter 8 considered water power. This chapter discusses irrigation, flood control, and transportation. Since the first administration of Theodore Roosevelt, conservationists had called for a comprehensive national policy that treated rivers as units rather than as disjointed parts of states, counties, or cities. Yet the old view of waterways died hard. River and harbor bills segmented water projects to reduce them to manageable size, to deliver benefits to the maximum number of constituents, to spread expenditures over many years, and to maintain strict congressional control over appropriations. Transportation and economic...

  16. 10 Conclusion Retrospect and Significance
    (pp. 272-296)

    From 1902 to 1935, federal water policies reflected remarkably consistent attitudes toward nature.¹ Part of the larger conservation movement, these policies sought to transform “natural resources” into predictable, manageable, and measurable units—as well as commodities that could be bought, sold, and traded. At all levels of government, water policy exemplified the American will to order and dominate the physical world, an almost primal impulse to “complete” an evolutionary process dictated by God or culture. In 1902, federal reclamation promised to “subdue worthless land,” turn the desert wilderness into a garden, and convert the West into a commonwealth of small...

    (pp. 297-298)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 299-388)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 389-394)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 395-395)