Working the Range: Essays on the History of Western Land Management and the Environment

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

STEPHEN P. SAYLES


11
The Politics of Reclamation: California's Central Valley and the Straus-Boke Rider of 1948-1949

On June 20, 1948, the 80th Congress enacted the Department of the Interior appropriations bill which appropriated $407 million to fund departmental operations for fiscal year 1949. Attached to this appropriation measure was a House- sponsored rider specifying that after January 31, 1949, the posts of commissioner, assistant commissioner, and regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation were to be filled with engineers having a minimum of five years experience. This rider was directed against the current commissioner, Michael Wolf Straus, and his director of Region II, Richard Lathrop Boke, of Sacramento. On June 30, President Harry Truman signed with great distaste the legislation into law in order to continue Interior Department funding for 1949. He declared that the rider was "an attempt to destroy the national power policy" and that it violated constitutional separation of powers by removing two executive officials charged with enforcement of reclamation law. The president concluded that "the consequences of the rider would serve land monopolies and private power interests in the West."1

What became known as the Straus-Boke rider was not only a constitutional issue but also reflected the politics of a decade- long jurisdictional dispute in the Central Valley of California between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of

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