Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Water and American Government: The Reclamation Bureau, National Water Policy, and
the West, 1902-1935. By DonaldJ. Pisani. (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2002. Pp. xviii+394. Maps, abbreviations, notes, index. ISBN 0-520-
23030-2. $49.95, cloth.)
Today, the American West faces the challenge of providing an adequate sup-
ply of good-quality water to its inhabitants, but this is not new. Dr. Donald Pisani
in this volume and sequel to To Reclaim a Divided West: Water, Law, and Public
Polzcy, 1848-i902 (University of New Mexico, 1992), traces the history of the
federal government's attempts to water the arid lands of the western United
States, using small family farms, with the creation of the U.S. Reclamation Ser-
vice (the Bureau of Reclamation).
Water and American Government provides an excellent overview of the Bureau of
Reclamation from its inception in 1902 through the beginnings of Franklin Roo-
sevelt's New Deal administration. Pisani discusses the political climate of the
bill's passage as well as the difficulties encountered by the fledgling government
bureau, such as funding its projects and the problems encountered by the early
settlers. Its three hundred pages of text and one hundred pages of footnotes cov-
er such topics as town-building, the relationship between the Reclamation Ser-
vice and the Army Corps of Engineers, and the dichotomy of Indian projects and
the assistance of the federal government to non-Indian settlement of the West.
As Pisani states, national water policies cannot be viewed from just the edifices
in Washington, D.C., but must also be viewed from the influence of local and
state governments and rural and urban communities. As a case study, two com-
munities in the Snake River Valley of Idaho are investigated, one sponsored by
private enterprise, Twin Falls, and the other a Reclamation Service town, Rupert.
Using this same methodology, Pisani examines the Yakima and Gila River Indian
reservations, where the federal government attempted to improve the lives of
the native Americans with irrigation and power. These chapters serve as models
for future research on other agricultural or mining communities or the compar-
ison of Indian reservations and neighboring irrigation districts.
Not to be forgotten in examining reclamation in the West is electric power--
considered by many to be the "paying partner" of irrigation and water develop-
ment. Pisani discusses public power from various levels, including the federal
government's own difficulties in how to deal with hydropower sites and pres-
sures exerted by private utility companies to be in control-an underlying theme
of the book-government's role in utilizing its natural resources.
In conclusion, Pisani states, "This book considers the failure of American gov-
ernment to live up to the ideals that animated the boldest peacetime program
undertaken in the twentieth century" (p. 293). While the initial Reclamation vi-
sion might have been the development of the American West with the small fam-
ily farm, the end result has been an explosive growth that could have occurred
only with Reclamation's assistance. Water and American Government provides a
needed volume on the history of federal reclamation during the first three
decades of the twentieth century-yet it also piques your curiosity (I am in-
trigued with the homecraft idea) and can spark additional research.
Salt River Project
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed September 22, 2014.