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CAREY ACT PROJECTS

REPORT OF

A COMMITTEE APPOINTED BY THE
SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO
MAKE AN INVESTIGATION INTO
AND REPORT UPON THE HISTORY
AND PRESENT CONDITION OF THE
CAREY ACT PROJECTS

PRESENTED BY MR. SMOOT

FEBRUARY 21, 1913.-Ordered to be printed

WASHINGTON

GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE

CAREY ACT PROJECTS.

WASHINGTON, D. C., February 15, 1913.

The SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR.

SIR: With further reference to your several letters of June 7, directing that representatives of the General Land Office, Reclamation Service, and Geological Survey prepare a report on the practical operation of the Carey Act and the history and present condition of the various projects under it:

A brief preliminary report of the committee detailed for this task, consisting of F. R. Dudley of the General Land Office, F. W. Hanna of the Reclamation Service, and Herman Stabler of the Geological Survey, was submitted on October 4, 1912, and on December 21, 1912, in response to directions of November 11, the committee submitted a report and draft of proposed departmental regulations under the Carey Act. This, which is the third and is intended to be the final report of the committee, is devoted to a discussion of those features on which the report was directed and which have not been covered by the two previous reports of the committee.

THE CAREY ACT.

The purpose of the Carey Act is specifically expressed in the act as being to aid the public-land States in the reclamation of the desert lands therein, and the settlement, cultivation, and sale of such lands in small tracts to actual settlers." This purpose has not been expressly changed by any amendment of the act, and therefore remains as the basis on which operations under the act should be considered and the criterion on which its success or failure should be adjudged. The Carey Act as amended provides for:

(a) The withdrawal of public lands from settlement and entry for one year pending investigation and survey preliminary to the filing by a beneficiary State of an application for segregation.

(b) After proper application by a State and a showing of a plan of irrigation sufficient to thoroughly irrigate and reclaim a body of public land, the making of a contract between the United States and the State for its reclamation by the State.

(c) The patenting to the State of land to which an ample supply of water has actually been furnished in a substantial ditch or canal, ordinarily free of cost or price.

Under the provisions of the act as amended, land is "reclaimed" when water is brought within a reasonable distance of it in a substantial ditch or canal, regardless of whether it is actually irrigated, cultivated, and settled. This definition of reclamation should be kept in mind, for land so reclaimed is patented to the State and the United States has no further administrative action in the matter except perhaps the initiation of judicial proceedings for reconveyance of the land if the purpose of the act is not subserved by its ultimate settlement, cultivation, and sale in small tracts to actual settlers.

S D-62-3-vol 25-32

ADMINISTRATION AND PROCEDURE.

The Carey Act is so drawn that a wide variation of procedure and administrative control is possible. Although the moral responsibility of the United States and the several States can not seriously be questioned, governmental supervision and control of projects is not mandatory and financial responsibility is disclaimed both by the Federal law and the State acts accepting it.

On the passage of the Carey Act, the Federal and State officials were ill prepared to administer it effectively. As a rule, they had no experience qualifying them to supervise irrigation operations and were overburdened with other duties. In consequence, there was general neglect of those provisions of the act not mandatory in character and superficial compliance with those provisions requiring definite action. For example, although the act requires the State to make "proper application" and to "submit a plan of irrigation sufficient to thoroughly irrigate and reclaim the land," the regulations and practice of the Department of the Interior, for the first 15 years after the passage of the act were such that a wholly ephemeral project could have passed to the contract stage and the lands included therein been held for grazing purposes for a period of 10 years. Instances are on record where lands in supposititious projects were patented to States without even the so-called reclamation provided for in the act. It is not believed that such conditions were the result of active fraudulent administration on the part of Government officials but were the natural result of lack of administrative supervision. All essential duties implied by the Carey Act, except the formal keeping of the land records, were left as fully as possible to the States, with the expectation that they would build up efficient reclamation organizations that would supervise operations under the Carey Act and assure the accomplishment of its purpose.

The State officials on their part, by reason of inexperience, inefficiency, lack of time and money, and in some cases apparently with fraudulent intent, appeared quite willing to accept and approve, without serious consideration or examination, the projects presented to them by private individuals and corporations. No serious attempt. was made by the States to do the work of reclamation directly, though one State did build a reservoir under conditions that resulted in a local scandal, and another State started a project that, after financial and engineering embarrassments, is now being completed by private capital. In fact, the State officials quite generally acted as mere agents of promotors or else the promoters themselves were appointed as State officials for the purposes of the act. The promoters on their part had water appropriations to sell. Their primary object was the taking of profits, and the natural tendency was to sell socalled water rights without accomplishing substantial construction of the irrigation system. Several of the projects taken up in the early period have more than once passed through the throes of financial dissolution. Each such failure places an additional burden on the ultimate settler in the case of a feasible project. In the case of bona fide attempts to develop projects, lack of experience on the part of the developing companies has not infrequently resulted in unsafe construction and financial wreck.

As a result of agitation resulting from the intolerable conditions on some of the projects, both Federal and State administration is at present on a much firmer basis than heretofore. Beginning with 1909, administration in the Department of the Interior has been much more comprehensive than formerly. In that year new regulations were issued requiring applicant States to show full data as to the feasibility of projects for which they desired to have lands segregated. Some States cheerfully cooperated in this matter and for their later projects have presented the plan of irrigation in considerable detail. Others have challenged the right of the department to go beyond the mere statement of a State official that the projects were satisfactory and have made Federal investigation of feasibility difficult. In addition to requiring more complete information with applications for segregating, the department has latterly made field investigation of all projects and has carefully considered such essential features as sufficiency and availability of water supply, feasibility of construction, costs and probable returns, and reliability of developing companies. Many projects doomed to ultimate failure have thus been rejected in their early stages before a great amount of money could be wasted on them. Your committee, in submitting a draft of revised regulations, has recommended that the department make still more comprehensive examination of the feasibility of projects requiring a complete showing of plan of irrigation at the time of their inception, and, if permissible under the act, requiring annual reports of progress and early relinquishment of segregated lands found to be nonirrigable.

In the States, also, great progress toward better conditions has been made. In more than one State political campaigns have been waged on the Carey Act issue, and new legislative acts and more efficient administration has resulted. The gradual elimination of the early nonfeasible projects and the gradual development of the most promising ones is now being accomplished. This betterment of conditions extends to nearly all the beneficiary States. The development of competent experienced reclamation corps with power to enforce proper construction methods and of sufficient numerical strength to cover the field of operations in any State may be said, however, to be still in its infancy; and nowhere has actual development by a State become the rule. The general change of conditions has been so recent that its effect can not yet be accurately estimated. It seems likely that for some time to come the principal result will be a narrowing of the field of Carey Act promotions to feasible projects and a very gradual placing of Carey Act operations on a sound financial basis. A more reasonable relation between the area of lands segregated and lands reclaimed is to be expected.

ARIZONA.

The Carey Act was extended to Arizona by the act of Congress approved February 18, 1909 (35 Stat., 638), but was not accepted by the local legislature until 1912. No applications for segregation have been made by the State.

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