Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 13: Irrigation

Chapter 13. Records of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and Its Predecessors

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Records of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and Its Predecessors, 1805-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands (1893-1924) and the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation (1924-46) History and Jurisdiction 13.87 The standing Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands was created in 1893 but select committees on that subject had existed for several years prior to that date. The committee exercised jurisdiction over irrigation projects generally, including the preemption and disposition of lands on reclaimed and irrigated projects; authorization of interstate compacts and agreements regarding irrigation projects; and disposal of drainage waters from irrigation projects. In 1924, the committee's jurisdiction was formally expanded to include subjects pertaining to the reclamation of lands and the committee's name was changed to the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation. In 1946, the committee was abolished and its duties were transferred to the Committee on Public Lands.

Records of the Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands, 53d-68th Congresses (1893-1924) and the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation, 68th-79th Congresses (1924-46)


Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Minute Books12 vols.51st-52d (1889-93), 55th-58th (1897-1905), 60th-65th (1907-19)
Docket Books10 vols.51st-53rd (1889-95), 55th-56th (1897-1901), 61st-65th (1909-19)
Petitions and Memorials1 ft.55th-57th (1897-1903), 58th-65th (1905-19), 67th (1921-23), 69th (1925-27), 71st-74th (1929-37), 77th (1941-42)
Committee Papers2 ft.55th-65th (1897-1919), 67th-74th (1921-37), 76th-77th (1939-42), 79th (1945-46)
Bill Files8 ft.58th-60th (1903-09), 62d-65th (1911-19), 67th-77th (1921-42), 79th (1945-46)
TOTAL:11 ft. and 22 vols. (2 ft.) 

13.88 Minute books document meetings held by the committee. In the early years the committee frequently was unable convene a quorum in order to conduct business. The minutes for the 77th Congress (1941-42) are unbound. The bill files for the 76th- 79th Congressess (1939-46) contain unbound minutes of hearings conducted on specific bills.

13.89 Entries in the docket books are organized by the date of the bill or petition. Some volumes contain additional comments in the "Chairman's Remarks" section.

13.90 Petitions referred to the committee usually were presented by either joint resolutions of State legislatures or by business and civic groups, rather than by large numbers of individuals. During the first years of the committee's existence Grange associations in the Eastern States strongly opposed irrigation projects. The Grange association in Beach Haven, PA was "opposed to irrigation of the arid lands of the West at the National Exspence" because there was "Plenty of land in the Eastern being Deserded and left to grow up with weeds" and that it was "not Nissary to Reclaim more Lands to come in Competition with that already being Cualtiveted" (57A-H13.1). The Grange appears to have presented the only organized opposition to Federal irrigation projects, since most of the petitions strongly favored involvement of the Government. For example, a resolution from the General Assembly of Colorado expressed the belief that the "continued material growth of the western states and the productiveness of the public and private lands thereof, are dependent in a large degree upon systematic irrigation of the same" (57A-H13.1).

13.91 In 1902, Congress passed the Newlands Reclamation Act, also known as the National Reclamation Act, which authorized Federal construction of irrigation projects. Proceeds from the sale of public lands in the Western States were to finance the construction and maintenance of the projects. In the early 1920's, Oregon had 1,250,000 acres in projects and it was estimated that an additional 1,000,000 acres of land could be irrigated (67A-H9.1).

13.92 Due to the combination of the Great Depression and the dust bowl, representatives from farm associations, drainage districts, and businessmen petitioned Congress to seek financial relief through loans to drainage and levee districts (71A-H8.1). Representatives from Ordway, CO, complained that during the past year they had experienced a tremendous deflation of prices of farm products, cattle and other livestock, and that their locality had experienced almost a total crop failure (72A-H7.1).

13.93 Committee papers contain copies of bills and resolutions referred to the committee, as well as correspondence, published hearings, and other documents relating to the subjects in its jurisdiction. Records for the 62d Congress (1911-13) include approximately 6 inches of 3-by-5 inch cards containing abstracts of correspondence or transcripts of the contents of telegrams. Each card is stamped with "U.S. Reclamation Service" at the bottom (62A-F21.1). For 1913-15, inspection reports of irrigation projects under construction provide information on the status of the projects, as well as any problems associated with them. Cost overruns, inefficiency, and waste appear to have been the major complaints (63A-F21.1). Thereafter, most of the material found in the committee papers seems to have been published.

13.94 Bill files are organized by bill number and usually contain a printed copy of the bill, plus supporting materials. The papers for H.R. 25141, 60th Congress (1907-9), include a suggestion from a resident of Hawaii that the coverage of the National Reclamation Act of 1902 be extended to the islands. Most public lands were on the leeward, or dry side, of the islands and for strategic purposes, he wished to keep the "citizenship of the Territory thoroughly American" by developing the land so it could "be disposed of to active and intelligent Americans of the same type as those attracted to the reclaimed public lands in the western states" (60A-D15). Letters from Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior under Calvin Coolidge, discuss water rights between the United States and Mexico, and offer insights and suggestions regarding H.R. 9826, a bill on the Colorado River Basin (69A-D16). Among the bill files for the 74th Congress (1935-37), is a 28-page, typed summary of individual projects, which gives the name of the irrigation district, date and amount of payments, and size of the area, and includes a narrative on the status of the project (H.R. 1423).

Table of Contents

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.