Rivalry, rivers & reclamation
Dams and competitive exclusion among federal agencies

Boulder Canyon

Reisner - chapter 6.


Powell's legacy

“capacity to develop resources
biotic community
net primary productivity
“hyperventilating economy
law of diminishing returns
ecological integrity

marshland reclamation
arid lands reclamation

Facts to interpret:

date amount arable land per capita
1890, 77 acres of cultivated land / person
1915, 04 acres of cultivated land / person
1962, 02 acres of cultivated land / person

The great plains were settled by windmills, barbed wire and steel plows.

“increasing intensive resource development”

population growth + rising affluence + technological changes (electricity) = Impact

  extensive vs. intensive
space availability      

Dams and competition among federal agencies: Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture.

“planning water resource development to meet future needs” (170)

Army Corps of Engineers [1810] military facilitate interstate commerce

Bureau of Reclamation [1902] acreage limitations for water projects was built into the original act to benefit small farmers

“big corporate farmers who wanted to monopolize whole rivers”

looming water crisis [1980s] drought, flood, aquifer overdraft (172)

Army Corps of Engineers & the Bureau of Reclamation cases of conflict:

size of the floods, Eel River, California, Bijou Creek, Colorado.

It was important to devise a means to get around acreage limitations of the 1902 Act & service requiring water projects to restrict the provision of water to farms of no more than 640 acres in size as was the area granted to settlers under the Homestead Act of 1865.

San Joaquin Valley's four largest land owners* by damming the Kings, Kern, Kaweah, & Tule Rivers in Kern County, California.

*"Salyer, Boswell, Kern County Land, and Miller & Lux were among the very largest and richest farmers in the entire world." (175)

Kern County Land held 413,000 acres & is now owned by Tenneco (174)

“Although the Tulare and Buena Vista lakes were privately owned, for the most part, the rivers which fed them were in the public domain.” (175)

spoilsmen in spirit… working hand in glove with land monopolies.”

Harold Ickes remarks concerning the power of the Corps in Congress, a cozy triangle of political interests with big farmers.

Warning of monopoly interests:

"The covert liaison between the Corps of Engineers & the world's largest irrigation farmers was to live on … as an example of government subsidizing the wrong people, for the wrong reasons…."

Corps replaced the Bureau due in part to not being bound, nor desiring to abide by acreage limits placed by Congress in 1902.

But competition between them meant overproduction of capacity; that is more water became available at lower prices for consumers! (201-213)

Reisner - chapter 6, pp.169-213.

Estuarine science and the origins of ecological thought.

Ecology of predator and prey relations along a river that feeds and estuary.

Land is nourished by water in that the energy from the tides and river flow through the habitat feeds the biotic community.

Nathaniel Shaler was among a series of practitioners who created a science of the land:

  • There are limits to which we can alter our geography due to unintended consequences.
  • Wildlife and fisheries act as a readiliy avaialable and interpretive guide to how extensive an impact of any ecological revolution is having on forests, rivers, lakes or wetland resources.
  • A measure of the effectiveness of geographical regeneration is the recovery of native vegetation, indigenous wildlife, fishery and bird species, the ample qualities of wetlands and water available in aquifers, or the accumulation of organic material in soil.

clipSiry - chapter 7.


ecological problem