reclamation of land

reclamation of land,

practice of converting land deemed unproductive into arable land by such methods as irrigationirrigation,
in agriculture, artificial watering of the land. Although used chiefly in regions with annual rainfall of less than 20 in. (51 cm), it is also used in wetter areas to grow certain crops, e.g., rice.
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, drainagedrainage,
in agriculture, the removal of excess water from the soil, either by a system of surface ditches, or by underground conduits if required by soil conditions and land contour. Diesel or centrifugal pumps are sometimes used to drain large areas.
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, flood control, altering the texture and mineral and organic content of soil (see fertilizerfertilizer,
organic or inorganic material containing one or more of the nutrients—mainly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and other essential elements required for plant growth.
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), and checking erosionerosion
, general term for the processes by which the surface of the earth is constantly being worn away. The principal agents are gravity, running water, near-shore waves, ice (mostly glaciers), and wind.
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. In the United States, all these methods have been used, but the chief effort has been through irrigation. Under the Reclamation Act of 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation supplies water, subsidized by taxpayers, to farmers on arid lands in 17 western states (see Reclamation, United States Bureau ofReclamation, United States Bureau of,
agency set up in the Dept. of the Interior under the Reclamation Act of 1902. It is charged with promoting regional economies by developing water and related land resources in the West.
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). The irrigation water has increased production, but at some cost: selenium and salinity poisoning have damaged land once reclaimed, competition has grown between agriculture and municipal interests, and wildlife habitat has been jeopardized. Additional aims of the reclamation program include hydroelectric power generation, recreation, and flood control.

History of Reclamation in the United States

While irrigation schemes were built in the Southwest before the coming of the Spanish, by the Catholic missions in California, and by Mormons in Utah by 1847, moves to gain government help for reclamation schemes began with the Carey Land ActCarey Land Act,
sponsored by Sen. Joseph M. Carey and passed by the U.S. Congress in 1894. The act provided for the transfer to Western states of U.S.-owned desert lands on the condition that they be irrigated. Settlers were permitted to buy up to 160 acres (64.
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 (1894). Focusing on the conservation of natural resources during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, reclamation was advocated for lands ruined by injudicious farming, grazing, and deforestation as well as for lands with little rainfall.

The Reclamation Act of 1902 provided that the federal government should plan and construct irrigation projects using the proceeds of public landpublic land,
in U.S. history, land owned by the federal government but not reserved for any special purpose, e.g., for a park or a military reservation. Public land is also called land in the public domain.
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 sales, and that the water users (usually organized in some type of cooperative) should liquidate the cost and purchase the irrigation works over a period of 10 years. The program was vigorously pushed by Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Among the many projects started then were the Truckee-Carson project (see Newlands projectNewlands project,
on the Carson and Truckee rivers, W Nev.; one of the first projects built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (1903–8). Lahontan Dam was completed in 1915 to produce electricity for the project.
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) and the Salt River project (see Salt River valleySalt River valley,
irrigated region around the lower course of the Salt River, which rises in mountain streams near the Mogollon Rim of the Mogollon Plateau and flows southwest to join the Gila River in S central Arizona. Phoenix is the main city of the latter Ariz. region.
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). The 1902 act had an acreage-limitation provision, but it did not halt the process of speculation in lands to be irrigated, which made costs to the actual farmers prohibitive. In 1914 the period of time for the water users to pay for the project was lengthened to 20 years (later raised to 40 years).

Interest in reclamation quickened after terrible droughts in the late 1920s and early 30s, and in the public works program of the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt the reclamation program was linked with projects for flood control and for the development of power. The Bureau of Reclamation began to work alongside the U.S. Army Engineers Corps in building dams and forwarding multipurpose projects. The Flood Control Act of 1944 broadened the powers of the federal government in these matters.

Reclamation has created much new wealth in the United States by turning areas that had formerly been arid into thriving agricultural and industrial communities. However, environmentalists have questioned and even stopped more recent projects, such as the Bureau's 1991 water project on the Colorado River, due to the damage to the environment such dam building has caused. The Columbia River complex has had to limit the amount of water diverted to safeguard spawning salmon, and the Omnibus Water Bill of 1992 limited the bureau to environmentally sound projects. Further, criticism that the bureau's programs have disproportionately aided large, rich farms led, in the 1992 bill, to the restriction of water subsidies to family farms.


See F. Powledge, Water (1982); M. P. Reisner, Cadillac Desert (1986).

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