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

By Richard W. Wahl | Go to book overview

11
Concluding Reflections

No doubt some readers may disagree with or be dismayed by many of the observations and conclusions made in this book. They may be concerned about the degree to which the goals and financial terms of the 1902 reclamation program have been stretched to accommodate the interests of irrigation water users at the expense of the general taxpayer. Indeed, a good deal of post-1902 reclamation legislation can be seen as an attempt to support the de facto practices of project water users and the existing administrative policies of the Bureau of Reclamation. And modifications to the program are not limited to adjustments made in the first decades of the program or hardships incurred during the depression: they are as recent as the compromises made during passage of the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982 and the writing of the April 1987 acreage limitation regulations. Today, a nonresident investor in land served by a reclamation project, or even a foreign investor, may receive far more federal assistance than an early settler on a reclamation project. Certainly, tougher-minded administrators of the reclamation program could have molded federal policies in a different direction, and the public could demand more of current officials. More fundamentally, however, the results raise questions over whether an enterprise of long-term financial assistance for water supply can be appropriately structured as a federal program.

Even though the Bureau of Reclamation has acknowledged through its Assessment '87 report that the era of large-scale new construction has drawn to a close, the program's financial incentives suggest otherwise. The repayment terms set by the Bureau of Recla

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