National Geographic : 1904 Jan
THE RECLAMATION OF THE WEST* BY F. H. NEWELL, IN CHARGE OF THE HYDROGRAPHIC BRANCH AND CHIEF ENGINEER OF THE RECLAMATION SERVICE, U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY. CONGRESS, in the spring of 1902, following the recommendations made by President Roosevelt in his first message, took up the matter of the reclamation of the arid West and on the 17th of June, a day celebrated in American history, the President signed the bill known as the reclamation law, setting aside the proceeds from the dis posal of public lands in thirteen western states and three territories for the con struction of irrigation works. At that time the matter attracted little attention other than from those who were inter ested in the measure. It was thought to be simply a western scheme which had been successfully lobbied through against the opposition of the leaders of both parties. As time has gone on the people of the country have begun to appreciate more and more the impor tance of the law not only to the West but to the country as a whole. It is now appreciated that if that law is well administered it will mean much to the future development of our country and a complete change in some physical and economic features. As geographers we are interested in the development of the country and in the changes that take place, and as citi zens of the United States we are con cerned in seeing that every resource is put to its best use, and that the country is developed to the fullest possible ex tent. The object of the reclamation law is primarily to put the public domain into the hands of small land owners men who live upon the land, support themselves, make prosperous homes, and become purchasers of the goods manufactured in the East and the cotton raised in the South. At the same time thisistobedonein such awaythatit will not become a burden to the tax payers. The money for the reclamation fund is from the disposal of public lands in the West. This money is returned again to the fund by repayment by the persons who are directly benefited. This matter of refunding is one of the most essential features of the law. Many considered this provision as triv ial, but the more the effect of the law is studied the more thoroughly is it demonstrated that this repayment is one of the best safeguards of the law, keep ing the administration clean and busi ness-like. The requirement that each project must be worth what it costs is a safeguard both in public and in private undertakings. Attacks upon the law have been made under the misconcep tion that the eastern farmer is taxed to make western farms valuable, and that the government will be victimized by the lands passing into the hands of great corporations. These attacks would not be made if the men who utter them would read the law, It is carefully guarded in every respect, putting the lands into the hands of small owners and refunding to the treasury the cost of reclaiming the land. This matter of irrigation and of western reclamation is by no means new. It has been discussed most thor oughly and persistently by one of our prominent members now gone before, John Wesley Powell. "The Major," as we all called him, in his early years made extensive explorations in the West, studying its topography, geog- *An address before the National Geographic Society, November 6, 1903.