When the city
of Sacramento flooded in 1850 and again in 1862, the politicians at
that time decided that something must be done to control the water.
This was the beginning of many water projects to try to tame Mother
In the 19th
century, United States law allowed anyone to claim land in which
hecould sail in a boat. Henry Miller, a former butcher boy, sailed
around claiming land in the San Joaquin Valley. By the time he was
done, he had claimed 1,090,000 acres of land. He was the first
person to build a significant sized dam.
from the people fleeing the Dust Bowl and cheap water led to rapid
expansion of the west. Congressmen, governors and farmers fought to
bring water to the Central Valley with the world's most expensive
water project to an area drier than North Africa. President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, under the New Deal, authorized the
Central Valley Project, CVP. Its purpose was to catch the snowmelt
from the Sierra-Nevadas and dole out the water during the summer
using an extensive grid of canals and aqueducts. During this time,
many people believed that the government should not undertake
projects such as these. In this way, FDR's politics helped
California out by providing many construction jobs and also
providing water for the Central Valley, which had been rapidly
depleting its groundwater sources.
of projects were made possible by the Reclamation Act of 1902 which
was created to prevent another Henry Miller incident and also allow
new 160 acre small farms for families.
wanted land with water, rather than land without water, and now
every senator wanted a water project in his area. This led to
political "pork barrel," the quid-pro-quo arrangement in which
politicians agreed that "if I endorse your project, you endorse
Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamationcontinued to
compete for resources. They continually built more and more
projects and Congress could not keep up with the demands for cash.
All of the money was coming from the Federal Treasury.
In the 1950s,
Governor Edmund G. Brown of California decided that an expensive
project to carry water from Northern California to Southern
California was necessary. Many did not like the idea, but Brown was
a popular governor and he was able to push the project through. In
the 1950s and 60s, the California state government approved many
parts of the California Water Project, one of the largest
construction projects in the history of the United States. The goal
of the project was to capture water at the right time and place and
transport it to the places of need when it was needed.
More than 70%
of the water in California is in the northern one-third, whereas
77% of the need for water comes from the southern two-thirds of the
state. This project required billions of dollars in funds. It was
the most important and controversial project during Governor
Brown's term of office. The project was opposed by tax-conscious
groups; Northern Californians were furious because they were
spending money to send their water "to fill pools" south, and the
San Francisco Chronicle hated his plan. Brown had to fight his way
through the political system to finally get approval for the
California Water Project helped avert a Sacramento Valley flood
worse than the one in 1955, which killed 36 people and damaged 400
homes in Yuba City. The project cost more than the Manhattan
Project and issued the largest bond issue of any state. When Pat
Brown ran for re-election, he continued talking about
As the growth
of big agribusiness continued, small farms disappeared. There was
an iron triangle of the local sponsors, the local legislature, and
the Bureau of Reclamation. The triangle would work together and
receive grants from Congress to build projects and receive water.
Political pork barrel continued as more and more projects were
passed by Congress.
presidents all had a list of projects to approve. Both Nixon and
Ford said "no" to all of them because they knew what was going on
inside Congress. However, when Jimmy Carter came into office, he
was an outsider and he cut off the funds to 19 water projects. He
said that they were too expensive and bad for the environment. He
was the first politician to do this and this instigated a lot of
debate. In the end, after all of the debates and congressional
hearings, Carter could not stop the majority of the
farm had disappeared and now there were alliances between the local
farmers, the local cattle association, the cotton growers, and the
local chamber of commerce in every town, to receive federal funding
to irrigate and to receive water.
tried to end the strongholds held by large agribusiness combines by
bestowing large amounts of capital on a small group of large farms
in return for their breaking up. However, the farms found loopholes
in subsidizing, double dipping, and other evasion techniques and
were able to continue their monopolies.
wanted to conserve and clean water. However, he did not want to
interfere with commercial businesses, industries,and other business
enterprises. He believed that corporate profit is the great
motivating force for the solution to society's problems, and not
Every time a
politician, presidential candidate, or gubernationalfaced an
election, he would visit the Central Valley and receive a hefty
donation The donation was intended to persuade the politician to
vote the way the growers wanted on any bills that would increase
water prices, change water rights laws, or affect agribusiness in
any way. When Carter was trying to reform water laws, re-election
time came up and he did nothing in order to avoid provoking
won votes in the Central Valley in 1988, but the feelings of the
nation slowly shifted towards conservation and environmentalism and
so, during the elections of 1992, George Bush signed a bill to
increase the price of water.