In the end the land: settlement of the Columbia Basin Project
Utter, Kathryn Louise
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Federal reclamation of the nation's acid west was rooted in part in its potential to further the spread of the family-owned and family-operated farm. The Columbia Basin Project (CBP) in central Washington is the single largest reclamation project undertaken by the federal government. Its promoters envisioned the water of the Columbia River transforming over one million acres of desert wasteland into thousands of eighty-acre productive farms. This study is based on the premise that the history of the settlement of the CBP can provide insight into the debate over why and to what extent reclamation met or did not meet its social potential. At the center is a tension between idealism and environmental reality and the ability of government to respond to the difficulties the settlers encountered when they attempted to make productive farms from the land available to them.Planning for the CBP began after environmental realities had forced reclamation proponents to modify their approach to settlement. CBP planners retained the goal of maximum opportunities but accepted that screening of both land and settler would be necessary if the family farm were to succeed. Land that did not meet minimal standards would not receive water. Potential settlers who did not possess minimal qualifications would not have the opportunity to buy land. Still problems arose. Much of the land was found to be of marginal quality. Many existing owners withdrew property, often of good quality, from the project. The legislative framework and the administrative system that Congress and the federal bureaucracy established proved inadequate to deal with the resulting difficulties.When the settlers arrived the disjuncture between project settlement goals, the environmental reality of the land on which they were to be realized, and the tools provided to implement them became clear. Individual farmers struggled and failed. In response, the government modified its ideas of and regulations governing who should settle and how they would be helped.
- History