This article examines the conflicts over knowledge, expertise, spiritual promises, and agroecological realities that collided in the construction of an early-1900s rural water conservation district in Cache Valley, Utah. Out of these tensions emerged a field-based view of conservation that oscillated between hydrologists' teachings of rational management through irrigation and local dry farming practices that seemed to acknowledge the valley's limitations—all in a futile effort to make the land faithful to an agri-spiritual aesthetic that persuaded scientists and farmers alike to rebuild District No. 1 over and over again. From debates about whose expertise to follow to economic devastation from illicit dealings of dubious financiers and unruly environmental conditions, the saga of Cache County Water Conservation District No. 1 reveals an irrigated rural western landscape that was as unpredictable as it was inescapable.

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