Markets for Federal Water: Subsidies, Property Rights, and the Bureau of Reclamation

By Richard W. Wahl | Go to book overview

4
Attempts to Limit the Reclamation Subsidy: The Reclamation Reform Act of 1982

The idea of promoting social justice and the general welfare by dividing up the large estates of wealthy landowners to provide small family farms and homesites for the landless classes is central to the twentieth-century history of China, Mexico, and other countries. However, such land reform is unlikely to be associated with the United States. Yet, in the 1960s, reform proposals were strongly advocated by certain agrarian interests in the western United States and were actually considered as serious options by the Department of the Interior under Secretary Cecil Andrus. These interests seized upon the acreage limitation and residency provisions applicable to land within federal irrigation projects as a vehicle for social reform. As with other land reform movements, the goal was to break up large landholdings in order to provide ownership opportunities to those who had previously been laborers on the farms.

This movement was spurred largely by a few energetic individuals, including George Ballis, the director of National Land for People; Mary Lois Frampton, legal counsel to National Land for People ( Frampton, 1979); and Ben Yellin, a medical doctor in the Imperial Irrigation District in southern California. Yellin's medical practice brought him into close contact with many farm workers. He believed that to improve working conditions and the health of his patients, land reform was necessary. Ballis and National Land for People complained that the Bureau of Reclamation was not enforcing the 160-acre limitation against large landowners and that it was impossible for those wanting to establish small farms to do so. They contended that one of the primary goals of the Reclamation Act of 1902 was thus being thwarted.

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