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THE CHISHOLM HOME AT ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO When Arwe truited this was the farthest town from a railroad in the United States
By Elwood Mead 'HE civilization of arid America is (some estimates make it twice this sum)
the gift of streams. Their use in has been expended in digging ditches
irrigation has opened markets for and canals to distribute it, and a new Eastern factories, stimulated the erection branch of engineering in this country has of Western ones, promoted mining, built been created. An army of men are emcities like Los Angeles and Salt Lake, ployed to regulate the head-gates of the made profitable the railways which unite main canals and to turn on or shut off the the two extremes of the continent, and water at the margins of farmers' fields. made attractive homes for over two million Thousands of weary miles are traveled souls. A region once given over to the every day by the men who patrol ditch nomadic range live-stock business is being banks to watch for leaks and prevent dotted with cities and rural homes. accidents, or to labor day and night with
The land reclaimed has an aggregate out ceasing when breaks do occur, to area greater than the State of New York. repair the injury before disaster and ruin From being originally without value, a overwhelm the irrigators whose fields single section, devoted to fruit-raising, has await the interrupted supply. sold for over a half-million dollars. Irri- In a country where streams must be gation has so increased the productive destroyed in order that people may live, capacity of land in Utah that the farm the common-law doctrine of riparian unit is twenty acres. This supports a rights, so universally recognized in all the settler ard his family in more than ordi- States of the Atlantic seaboard and Misnary comfort. A township of the same sissippi Valley, has no place. The necesland would not produce enough to keep sities of climate are inexorable. Where this settler from starving if compelled to crops cannot be grown by rainfall alone, cultivate it in its original condition. to insist that streams shall continue to flow
All this is the result of using a resource “undiminished in quantity” is to conwhich for centuries has run unchecked to demn the lands along their banks to perthe sea. Instead of these fertile valleys petual barrenness. This is so contrary continuing to parch and burn under the to common sense that, with or without cloudless, rainless summer skies of this laws, streams are being “appropriated,” region, they are being moistened by water diverted, and used. drawn from every available source. It is A commerce in water of immense and taken from rivulets and creeks in the constantly growing importance has been hills and the great rivers of the plains. created. Lawyers and judges are strugIt is pumped from wells and drawn from gling with the complex legal problems başins where stored. Over $100,000,000 growing out of stream ownership where “appropriations "are regulated by statute, banks of the river waiting to absorb the and the still worse complications which augmented flow. The individual user on exist where the retention of riparian rights such a stream is helpless. Only just has been attempted.
public control and administrative ability It is impossible for those who live where of high order will serve to make secure fields are watered from the clouds to the multitude of rights to the water of a appreciate the significance of a “water river used in irrigation. Where this is right" where moisture comes from streams. lacking, it often happens that irrigated Many rivers are the arteries which supply fields at the head of a stream are flooded, the life-blood to important and widely while those far down are parched with separated districts. A peaceable and just drought, injurious waste above causing distribution of their flow requires the destructive scarcity below. harmonizing of the diverse and conflict- It is now manifest that the first step in ing interests of individuals, communities, Western settlement should have been the and even of States. Some of these rivers measurement of streams and the inauguextend for hundreds of miles, and control ration of a system for the recording and the destinies of a
protecting of rights multitude of people.
to their use as comHumboldt River
plete in its operation rises in the moun
as the existing systains of eastern Ne
tem for the disposal vada, and loses itself
of public land. Canals in Humboldt Lake
should have been near the western bor
built according to a der of the State. The
prearranged plan, in oldest settlement is
order to conserve the at Lovelocks, near
water supply and se the lower end of the
cure the cultivation river. The farms,
of the best land; and which are exceeding
where there were ly productive and
enough ditches to valuable, depend on
absorb the supply, a water supply which
further construction comes from moun
should have been tains three hundred
prevented, both as a miles away. Border
protection to those ing on the upper part
ignorant of the situaof the river is a hun
tion and as the surest dred times as much
AN ALFALFA FIELD
means of preventing irrigable land as the Showing the result of irrigation.
controversies. Every stream can serve. The owners of this land ditch in excess of the capacity of a stream want the water, and there is no law to reg- means one of two things : either a loss ulate their taking it. Already scores of to its owners from lack of water to fill ditches above are diverting the supply for- it, or its flooding at the expense of the merly used below. The farmer at Lovelocks earlier ditches. Every excess right means realized that the water he needs is being a fraud on its holders or the robbing of taken away from him in ditches built long earlier ones. Nothing resembling this after his farm was brought under cultiva- has been attempted. At the outset the tion, but what is he to do? Shall he whole subject was neglected, because its assert his prior right to the river and importance was not appreciated. Irrigaclose the ditches which are diverting its tion was an experiment. No one dreamed flow? If at daylight he got on the fastest that millions of people were to fill these railroad train which passes his farm and valleys. The early users of water were rode until dark, he would still be miles bitterly hostile to any sort of legislation. below some of the head-gates. If he They maintained that water was as free closed the upper ones, there are scores of as air, and that to require them to incur others scattered along the willow-bordered any expense in recording their diversion
DIGGING AN IRRIGATION CANAL IN NEBRASKA of it was as unwarranted an exercise of arbi. are numbered by the thousands. Later trary authority as to place a tax on breath- comers, foreseeing the impending scarcity, ing. They were deaf to the warning that avoid the valleys, and place their headthere was more land than water, that the gates in the hills to be nearer the source time was coming when there would be of supply. The early irrigator, who once more ditches than the streams could fill had all, now often finds himself with nothand more acres under cultivation than ing, and too often attempts to secure his could be supplied. So long as streams rights by a war on those above with shothad a surplus, and every ditch-owner was gun or shovel. When this fails, relief is taking what he pleased and as he pleased, sought in the courts. As a result, waterone right was as good as another, and right litigation has been one of the most “ Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” costly, most senseless, most injurious feawas the motto of irrigators who were tures of our past irrigation history. It almost a unit in opposing adequate irri- has enriched lawyers, impoverished and gation legislation.
discouraged investors, promoted discord The march of settlement has brought between neighbors, and jealousy and strife with it the results which thoughtful minds between communities and States. The had foreseen. Communities have multi- determination of the simplest physical plied; the single ditch has become a score facts, as well as questions of engineering of canals, on some streams a hundred or and agriculture which can be rightly more, while on rivers like the Platte they settled only by men familiar with those subjects, have been wrangled over in court An acre of the same kind of land along by attorneys fresh from the East, and side of it, but without a water right, is decided by judges who lack the practical not worth fifty cents.
not worth fifty cents. Control of the water knowledge of the volume of water to be supply, therefore, gives control of land acquired, of the amount needed to irri- vaiues. It can make arid land blossom, gate an acre, and of the methods by which or destroy the farms reclaimed. Property it has to be distributed and used.
rights in streams are, therefore, of imWhen all the streams of the arid region mense value both to those who are already which can be utilized shall be turned into using water and to those who desire to ditches and canals, and from these ditches sell to others. Their cash value in a distributed with the utmost economy over single State is over $75,000,000, while the the soil, only a small fraction of the irri- prospective value is immensely greater. gable land will have been reclaimed. By This, it must be remembered, does not far the greater part must always remain include canals or ditches, but simply the arid and of little value. Along nearly property rights in the snows and rains every stream there will be tracts of irri- which fill the streams. gated and unirrigated land side by side, No general statement will serve to both equally fertile, having the same describe the methods by which water rights climate, the same advantages save one. are established, because in only three One tract will have a right to the stream ; States—Colorado, Wyoming, and Nethe other will be denied this. Mark the braska—is there anything resembling a difference. The irrigated tract will be systematic procedure. In the other immensely productive, and with a value States any one who wishes to acquire a equal to or surpassing that of farming right to a stream proceeds about as he land in regions of ample rainfall. The pleases to divert and use it until he intertract without water can be used only for feres with its use by some one else, or pasturage purposes, and its rental value until some one interferes with him. Even will scarcely suffice to pay taxes. An in States like Utah and California, where acre of fruit land in southern California water is of greatest value, there is no with a water right attached is worth $500. tribunal to which irrigators can go for a
HEAD-GATE OF LARIMER AND WELD CANAL
Poudre Valley, Colorado.