The Reclamation Act (also known as the Lowlands Reclamation Act or National Reclamation Act) of 1902 (P.L. 57-161, as amended) is a United States federal law that funded irrigation projects for the arid lands of 20 states in the American West
The act at first covered only 16 of the western states as Texas had no federal lands. Texas was added later by a special act passed in 1906. The act set aside money from sales of semi-arid public lands for the construction and maintenance of irrigation projects. The newly irrigated land would be sold and money would be put into a revolving fund that supported more such projects. This led to the eventual damming of nearly every major western river. Under the act, the Secretary of the Interior created the United States Reclamation Service within the United States Geological Survey to administer the program. In 1907 the Service became a separate organization within the Department of the Interior and was renamed the United States Bureau of Reclamation.
The Act was authored by Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada. Amendments made by the Reclamation Project Act of 1939 gave the Department of the Interior, among other things, the authority to amend repayment contracts and to extend repayment for not more than 40 years. Amendments made by the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982 (P.L. 97-293) eliminated the residency requirement provisions of reclamation law, raised the acreage limitation on lands irrigated with water supplied by the Bureau of Reclamation, and established and required full-cost rates for land receiving water above the acreage limit.
John Wesley Powell, often considered the father of reclamation, began, in 1867, a series of expeditions to explore the West. He saw that after snow-melt and spring rains, the rivers of the West flooded, releasing huge amounts of water, and that for the rest of the year not enough rain fell to support any kind of real agriculture. He became convinced that irrigation was the only means by which much of the West could sustain population. He mapped locations for dams and irrigation projects. He found widespread support throughout the West, especially through the droughts of the 1890s.
Several private and local farming organizations proved the benefits of irrigation projects. However, when it became apparent that a greater effort would be required, Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada introduced legislation into the United States Congress to provide federal help for irrigation projects. The resulting act passed on June 17, 1902.
Newlands carried the bulk of the legislative burden and had strong technical backup from Frederick Haynes Newell of the Department of the Interior. President Theodore Roosevelt cobbled together the legislative alliances that made passage of the act possible.
Full article ▸