Uncle Sam in the Pacific Northwest: Federal Management of Natural Resources in the Columbia River Valley

By Charles McKinley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
The Bureau of Reclamation in the Columbia Valley

Growth of the Bureau as an Irrigation Agency

IRRIGATION in the Pacific Northwest long antedates the Bureau of Reclamation. Almost since the beginning of settlement in the most arid parts of the region, individual farmers have used water from streams, and private companies were organized to supply groups of farmers. In the Snake River, Hood River, Wenatchee, and other valleys irrigation was practiced long before the Bureau of Reclamation was created. Despite the fact that the Bureau of Reclamation has in the last quarter of a century become almost the sole agency developing new irrigated tracts in the United States, most of the irrigated land in the Western states still lies outside its projects. Commissioner Bashore of the Bureau of Reclamation estimated early in 1944 that there were approximately 21,000,000 acres of land under irrigation, of which about 4,000,000, including land receiving supplemental water, were on federal reclamation projects. At that time the Bureau of Reclamation had authorized or under construction a total area of approximately 8,000,000 acres. The bureau's monopoly on new irrigation is due to the fact that modern irrigation systems are large and complex programs. They require great amounts of capital to build huge storage works and other structures essential not only to irrigation but to power production, flood control, municipal and industrial water supply, and also to navigation.

In 1942 the relative importance of the Bureau of Reclamation as an irrigation instrument was even greater in the Pacific Northwest than for the entire seventeen states in which it operates: That is, a higher proportion of the total land irrigated or in process of being developed for irrigation was under federal projects here than in the other Western states. A tabulation by the bureau in 1941 showed that with the completion of projects then under way the irrigated acreage would be distributed between private and federal (including Indian Service) enterprise as follows:

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