"Federal Reclamation and the American West in the Twentieth Century" looks at four phases in the history of the Bureau of Reclamation. The first phase lasted from the adoption of the Reclamation Act of 1902 into the 1930s. In those years, the bureau attempted to create small family farms by bringing water to the desert lands of the West. That effort failed, in part because farming was becoming less attractive in the United States during the early decades of the 20th century, in part because irrigation was too expensive, and in part because the bureau made many mistakes in administering the 30 projects it created. A second phase of the bureau’s life began in the 1930s, with the "high dam era." From 1930 into the 1950s, the bureau’s mission became inconsistent as it strived to serve a new constituency, city dwellers and industries on the Pacific Coast, at the same time it continued to push the family farm. The bureau entered a third phase of life after World War II, when the power it generated became identified with winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union and agribusiness eclipsed the family farm in the West. Finally, once big dams began to look too expensive and like "old technology," the bureau recreated itself into an agency which now claims to work in the interest of protecting the environment and serving as the West’s "water broker." The Bureau of Reclamation, which has done as much as any federal agency to build the modern American West, has shown an amazing ability to pursue inconsistent objectives and to recreate itself.

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