A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy

By Juliet Christian-Smith; Peter H. Gleick et al. | Go to book overview

8
WATER AND AGRICULTURE

Juliet Christian-Smith


Introduction

Wallace Stegner’s classic treatise Beyond the 100th Meridian outlines the struggle of John Wesley Powell, the pioneering American explorer, to educate the nation about the scientific and political implications of the distinction between the wetter eastern states and the drier western states. Hydrologically speaking, the United States is at least two countries, split down the middle along the 100th meridian from North Dakota to Texas. The 100th meridian is a critical dividing line—east of the line states receive an average of 20 inches of rain or more per year, while to the west of the line, states receive an average of 20 inches of rain or less, sometimes much less, per year. As a result, the challenge of economic development of the American West revolved in many ways around the challenges of finding and mobilizing water resources, especially for irrigated agriculture. Irrigation in the 31 eastern states is almost entirely a supplement to natural rainfall. In the West, most crop production would not be possible without large-scale artificial irrigation. The federal government, through federal laws such as the Reclamation Act and other policy initiatives, has been central to efforts to expand irrigated acreage and encourage the settlement of the western United States.

When the first national assessments of irrigation were released from the Census of Agriculture in 1890, there were an estimated 3.7 million acres of irrigated land nationwide. Irrigated land acreage has increased steadily since then (see figure 8.1), with a brief dip through the 1920s to 1930s associated with the Great Depression. Between 1939 and 1949, total irrigated acreage rose by 43 percent, the largest increase ever reported in the

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A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • List of Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction- the Soft Path for Water xv
  • 1 - The Water of the United States 3
  • 2 - Legal and Institutional Framework of Water Management 23
  • 3 - Water and Environmental Justice 52
  • 4 - Tribes and Water 90
  • 5 - Water Quality 109
  • 6 - Protecting Freshwater Ecosystems 142
  • 7 - Municipal Water Use 167
  • 8 - Water and Agriculture 195
  • 9 - Water and Energy 221
  • 10 - Water and Climate 244
  • 11 - United States International Water Policy 263
  • 12 - Conclusions and Recommendations 288
  • Appendix - Key Pieces of Federal Legislation 305
  • Notes 313
  • About the Authors 317
  • Index 319
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