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U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

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The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is a government agency that aims to develop, manage, and protect water resources, whether it is for storage, delivery, or hydroelectricity. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, formerly known as the U.S. Reclamation Service, is known for constructing more than 600 dams throughout 17 western states, including Colorado, Nevada, California, and New Mexico.

The Reclamation is the second largest hydropower plant producer in the country, with 58 power plants that generate 40 billion kW hours of energy and light up more than six billion homes.

Established in 1902, the Reclamation hires contractors to oversee the construction of dams, canals, and reservoirs such as the world-famous Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and the Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.[1]


[edit] History

The demand for water is not a new concept. During the winter months, states in the western region of the U.S. would experience melting snow, and an influx of water flow would have early settlers collecting water and using it at nearby locations. Settlers stored water for the dry, summer months when climates and low precipitation were unforgiving to farmers’ crops. The demand for water far exceeded the supply. In addition, in areas where rivers did flow generously, they were unreliable and in need of regulation in order to provide maximum results.[2]

Viable fresh water, in fact, accounts for only one percent of the world’s accessible water supply. Settlers attempted to store water but due to the jurisdictions and number of states that many rivers cross, there were many complications in abiding by the law when it came to the business of water irrigation systems. This left many feeling that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure the preservation and conservation of fresh water resources.

Projects were devised by private government firms, but insufficient funds and lack of engineering skill meant irrigation systems consistently failed. With the help of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey, all of which contributed to the idea of reclamation, Congress passed several acts over the course of the late 1800s to help get an agency in the works and a viable irrigation development system established. In 1877, the Desert Land Act was devised, along with the Carey Act in 1894. Settlers, however, wanted more government involvement in the development of irrigation in the western states.

The direct involvement of the government in developing canals and dams was fully backed by President Roosevelt and the Reclamation Act was authorized on June 17, 1902. The U.S. Reclamation Service (USRS), a division within the Division of Hydrography in the U.S. Geological Survey, was founded. Charles D. Walcott became the first director of the USRS and Frederick Newell, its first chief engineer.

The Reclamation Act was designed to have the construction of the water projects paid by those who used it. Even with the help of outside contractors, the act meant that the projects would remain federal property. Not only would the bureau be responsible for constructing dams and reservoirs, but they would also maintain, monitor, and manage them, allocating water resources in the most economically and environmentally viable manner possible. Over time, 17 states became privy to the resources provided by the Reclamation. Texas, because it was not a federal state at the time of the Reclamation’s launch, wasn’t a part of the act until 1906.[3]

Plans for irrigation projects went underway quickly in 1902, and by 1907, Reclamation had devised as many as 30 projects. By 1923, the USRS had changed its name to what it is today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The projects it set out to complete first became operational in 1909. While irrigation was the primary purpose of the Reclamation, the water was also supplied to the growing populations of cities, tribal Indians, as well as for environmental interests. With the construction of dams, the bureau came to realize that irrigation could also serve as a source of hydropower, as well as controlling floods and water supply. By the 1930s, the main purpose of building dams was to generate power.

[edit] Lawsuits, Controversies, and Other Problems

The Colorado River, spanning the course of seven states, raised concerns over jurisdictions. The Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, arranged a meeting between the commissioners of New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming to arrange the division of the river’s assets. The Interstate Compact was authorized by the Congress in 1928, although there were debates about the allocation set for Arizona, resulting in a lawsuit against California.

Other problems arose with the compact between the interstates, including 1.5 million acre feet (0.12 ha m) of water that was not received as promised by New Mexico in a 1944 treaty.

The Reclamation assumed that construction projects could be paid for by those who used the water, but the towering construction costs disproved this idea and the bureau was met with a few uneasy years of funding dam projects. So much so, in fact, that the congress ordered a 10-year payment plan, which was extended twice to 40 years.

The Fact Finder’s Act in 1924 saw the Reclamation undergo a number of changes, following in-depth studies into the fiscal problems they had encountered with some of their projects. Under commissioner Elwood Mead, the Boulder Canyon (Hoover Dam) project was approved, as well as 40 other projects, including the Central Valley Project in California and the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington.

Construction of various projects continued through the Great Depression and into the 1970s. One of the biggest multi-purpose projects was the Hoover Dam in 1936, standing at 726 feet (221 m). By 2002, more than 70 reclamation projects had been completed, and a total of 600 dams and reservoirs.[4]

In 1982, size became an issue for the Reclamation again when a lawsuit was launched against the federal government. On October 12, 1982, Congress passed public law 97-293, the Reclamation Reform Act, in response to acreage limitation.[5]

While the Bureau worked in conjunction with Indian Services to ensure that tribal Indians such as Yuma and Blackfeet were provided with enough water to meet their needs, there were instances where Native Amercians believed they were not allotted enough. Cases such as Winters v. United States passed laws to ensure Indians' reservation rights.

Environmental concerns also began to plague the Bureau during the 1950s and upwards. The construction of dams has subsequently met with the death of wetlands, concerns over fisheries and other wildlife habitats. In the 1950s, controversy erupted over the plans for construction of Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument. The risk of losing a national historic landmark led to public outcry and plans for the dam were canned.

In the 1960s, further projects were cancelled. The Marble Canyon Dam and Bridge Dam never made it to the construction phase because the public was concerned with preserving the Grand Canyon. Water and air pollution, as well as the death of natural habitats, wildlife and historical landmarks have since raised criticism of the construction of dams.

[edit] Project List

[edit] The Company Today

Today the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the country, providing millions of homes with energy and 140,000 farmers with irrigation that supplies 60 percent of the vegetables and 25 percent of the fruits and nuts in America.

The role of the bureau has modified over time, with the agency managing rather than developing construction projects among the 17 western U.S. states. To date, 347 reservoirs have been constructed, the equivalent of storing 245 million square feet (23 million m2). Of their completed projects, 10 trillion gallons (38 trillion L) of water are supplied to 31 million people.[6]

In addition to monitoring and regulating dams, the Bureau has projects such as Water 2025 underway to ensure the challenges of future projects can be met successfully. Of the 600 dams and reservoirs, 289 have been turned into recreation sites with the help of private partners, of which see a total of 90 million visitors per year.

Staffing and budget of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has experienced a sharp increase. By 1993, the staff was cut down by 1/5th, with more reductions expected for the future.[7]

[edit] References

  1. About. USBR. 2008-09-22.
  2. US Bureau of Reclamation. Water Encyclopedia. 2008-09-22.
  3. Brief History. USBR. 2008-09-22.
  4. US Bureau of Reclamation. Water Encyclopedia. 2008-09-22.
  5. RRA. USBR. 2008-09-22.
  6. About. USBR. 2008-09-22.
  7. Brief History. USBR. 2008-09-22.

[edit] External Links