NCSSM 2011 Summer Symposium, The Role of the Progressive Era in Water Policy in the American West


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An overview of the role of Progressive Era politicians in water policy in the American West for students in "The Waterless West" course, part of the NCSSM 2011 Summer Symposium on the Global Water Crisis

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  • Pinchot believed that timberlands should be managed scientifically, with selected trees harvested and others left to grow, so that rain would not cause excessive soil erosion, runoff, flooding, or water pollution.
  • NCSSM 2011 Summer Symposium, The Role of the Progressive Era in Water Policy in the American West

    1. 1. THE WATERLESS WEST<br />The Progressive Era and Water in the American West<br />
    2. 2. Roots of Environmental Interventions<br />Preservationists<br />Leader: John Muir<br />Philosophy: valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities; referred to National Parks as "places for rest, inspiration, and prayers."<br />Conservationists<br />Leader: Gifford Pinchot<br />Philosophy: hoped to manage natural resources for long-term sustainable commercial use; "forestry is tree farming," w/out destroying long-term viability of forests<br />Movement arises at the turn of the twentieth century in response to rapid industrialization and urbanization<br />
    3. 3. Theodore Roosevelt<br />A conservationist<br />Founder of the Boone & Crockett Club, 1887<br />President of the U.S., 1901-09<br />Writer of 15+ books on natural history<br />Set aside 230,000,000 acres of land as National Parks, National Forests, game and bird preserves<br />His presidency established the first federal regulation of human-environmental interaction<br />Believed in “the greatest good for the greatest number”<br />
    4. 4. The Progressive Era response<br />John Wesley Powell explored the West from 1867 on. He saw that snow-melt and spring rains caused rivers to flood, but for the rest of the year not enough rain fell to support agriculture and became the chief advocate for irrigation to populate the West.<br />Progressive politicians acted on Powell’s advice with the<br />Newlands Reclamation Act, 1902<br />Authorized federal irrigation projects in 14 western states<br />Established the US Bureau of Reclamation<br />U.S. Forest Service, founded 1905<br />
    5. 5. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation<br />Roosevelt’s belief in “the greatest good for the greatest number” led to irrigation projects that redirected water to population and agricultural centers in the West<br />Between 1902-28, USBR undertook more than 30 irrigation projects with mixed results due to inexperience (among engineers and farmers) and inappropriate techniques<br />In 1928, USBR was modernized and undertook its biggest project to date, Hoover Dam<br />
    6. 6. In the vacuum between urbanization and federal intervention, <br />Urban areas (like LA) took advantage of prior appropriation water rights law in the West to buy water away from rural areas in the 1890s<br />William Mulholland and other LA civic leaders led the effort to “get water” for LA<br />