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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
FRED A. SEATON, Secretary
BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
A COMPILATION OF FINDINGS OF
FOR BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
OF THE INTERIOR
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office,
Denver, Colorado, Attention : 841.
The criterion for authorization of Federal reclamation projects since their inception has been whether they are feasible. At the inauguration of the Federal reclamation program, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to proceed with the construction of an irrigation project if the Secretary determined that the project was practicable and that the estimated cost of construction could be returned to the United States by the water users in not exceeding 10 annual installments.
Under present law (1956) a finding of feasibility approved by the Secretary and sent to the President and the Congress is sufficient to authorize the construction of a reclamation project if the Secretary finds that the proposed project has engineering feasibility and if the estimated cost, less allocations to food control, navigation, and fish and wildlife, will probably be returned to the United States. Because of this feature, the finding of feasibility procedure is sometimes referred to as the “automatic" authorization. Under the Flood Control Act of 1944, the Secretary is required to inform the Secretary of War (Chief of Engineers) and the affected States of his proposals. If either make objections, the proposal shall require an act of Congress.
The original Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902 (32 Stat. 388), vested in the Secretary authority to construct feasible projects, section 2 of the act providing:
SEC. 2. That the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized and directed to make examinations and surveys for, and to locate and construct, as herein provided, irrigation works for the storage, diversion, and development of waters, including artesian wells, and to report to Congress at the beginning of each regular session as to the results of such examination and surveys, giving estimates of cost of all contemplated works, the quantity and location of the lands which can be irrigated therefrom, and all facts relative to the practicability of each irrigation project; also the cost of works in process of construction as well as of those which have been completed.
Section 3 of the act made it discretionary with the Secretary as to whether a project should be undertaken or not, on the basis of whether it was practicable and advisable, the first proviso of this section reading:
Sec. 3. *** Provided, That all lands entered and entries made under the homestead laws within areas so withdrawn during such withdrawal shall be subject to all the provisions, limitations, charges, terms and conditions of this act; that said surveys shall be prosecuted diligently to completion, and upon the completion thereof, and of the necessary maps, plans, and estimates of cost, the Secretary of the Interior shall determine whether or not
said project is practicable and advisable, and if determined to be impracticable or unadvisable he shall thereupon restore said lands to entry;
Section 4 of the act established the basic rule for feasibility by providing that the Secretary must fix the size of farm to support a family and secure the return of the cost of the construction of the project within ten years, section 4 reading in part, as follows:
SEC. 4. That upon the determination by the Secretary of the Interior that any irrigation project is practicable, he may cause to be let contracts for the construction of the same, in such portions or sections as it may be practicable to construct and complete as parts of the whole project, providing the necessary funds for such portions or sections are available in the reclamation fund, and thereupon he shall give public notice of the lands irrigable under such project, and limit of area per entry, which limit shall represent the acreage which, in the opinion of the Secretary, may be reasonably required for the support of a family upon the lands in question; also of the charges which shall be made per acre upon the said entries, and upon lands in private ownership which may be irrigated by the waters of the said irrigation project, and the number of annual installments, not exceeding ten, in which such charges shall be paid and the time when such payments shall commence. The said charges shall be determined with a view of returning to the reclamation fund the estimated cost of construction of the project, and shall be apportioned equitably; * * *
Thus, we find that under the original act the Secretary had authority to construct those projects which he considered practicable and advisable, the test of financial practicability being limited to whether, in his opinion, the cost of the project could be returned within a ten-year period.
In 1910, by the act of June 25 (36 Stat. 835) Congress modified the finding of feasibility procedure to require the President to approve the authorization for a project on the recommendation of the Secretary of the Interior, section 4 of the act reading:
SEC. 4. That all money placed to the credit of the reclamation fund in pursuance of this act shall be devoted exclusively to the completion of work on reclamation projects heretofore begun as hereinbefore provided, and the same shall be included with all other expenses in future estimates of construction, operation, or maintenance, and hereafter no irrigation project contemplated by said act of June seventeenth, nineteen hundred and two, shall be begun unless and until the same shall have been recommended by the Secretary of the Interior and approved by the direct order of the President of the United States.
This act also contained a special provision requiring all projects then under construction to be examined and reported upon by the Corps of Engineers of the United States Army and the President to reapprove each project as feasible and practicable. Actually, the original authority of the Secretary to find a project feasible was rescinded by the act of 1910 and the President was required to approve all undertakings.
The act of February 21, 1911 (36 Stat. 925), commonly known as the Warren Act, authorized the Secretary to dispose of water in excess of requirements of lands to be irrigated under any project to existing irrigation enterprises. In contracting for the disposition of such excess waters the Secretary is required to fix
the charges, taking into consideration the cost of construction and maintenance of the Government system, and to make the charges just and equitable as to the water users within the Government project. In other words, the Secretary must not discriminate in favor of private lands receiving a supplemental supply under the Warren Act as against the lands receiving a full supply under the government project.
In 1914 the procedure for finding a project feasible was further modified by providing for return of the cost of construction of projects by irrigation water users in 16 installments paid over 20 years. The act of August 13, 1914 (38 Stat. 686), states:
SEC. 1. any person who hereafter makes entry thereunder shall at the time of making water-right application or entry, as the case may be, pay into the reclamation fund five per centum of the construction charge fixed for his land as an initial installment, and shall pay the balance of said charge in fifteen annual installments, the first five of which shall each be five per centum of the construction charge and the remainder shall each be seven per centum until the whole amount shall have been paid. The first of the annual installments shall become due and payable on December first of the fifth calendar year after the initial installment;
Until 1922 the Government looked to the individual water user on reclamation projects to return the cost thereof. By the act of May 15, 1922 (42 Stat. 541), the Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to contract with irrigation districts in place of the individual water user and to recover the annual charges from the district under a joint liability contract. This act, however, did not modify the rules of feasibility, including the repayment limit which remained at 20 years.
It was becoming increasingly evident, however, that the relatively short period of years for return of the investment was limiting the class of projects that could be undertaken. Many worth-while projects could be constructed if a longer repayment period were authorized. A committee of special advisers appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, known as the Fact Finders, submitted a report in 1924 (Senate Document 92, 68th Congress, 1st Session) which became the basis for an act of Congress modifying the feasibility requirements. The Fact Finders Act was attached to and became a part of the Second Deficiency Act of 1924 (act of December 5, 1924, 43 Stat. 672).
The Fact Finders Act required that the Commissioner of Reclamation join with the Secretary of the Interior in recommending projects to the President for approval. In submitting his recommendations to the President the Secretary was required to include in his report information on water supply, engineering features, cost of construction, land prices, probable cost of development, and find that the cost could be returned to the United States. Instead of the 20-year period for repayment as provided by the Extension Act of 1914, the 1924 Act contained the entirely new idea that construction charges should be paid in annual installments based on the productive power of the land. The formula included in the statute computed the annual construction charge