What Is the Newlands Reclamation Act?

The Newlands Reclamation Act is a United States federal law passed in 1902 that provided funding for irrigation to first 13 states, then additional states with significant tracts of arid land. The act was funded by sale of semi-arid public land by the federal government.

The Newlands Reclamation Act transformed the West into the breadbasket of America, turning useless land into bountiful territory. Vegetable, fruit and nut production all skyrocketed after the projects undertaken by the Act were implemented.

Areas provided with irrigation include:

  • Salt River, Ariz.: 182,000 acres
  • Truckee-Carson, Nev.: 206,000 acres
  • Belle Fourche, S.D.: 100,000 acres
  • Umatilla, Ore.: 36,300 acres

Written and proposed by Representative Francis G. Newland of Nevada, the Newlands Reclamation Act was intended to stimulate growth, expansion Westward, and the nation's agricultural power. It was meaningfully amended in 1939 to give the U.S. Department of the Interior greater control on the repayment contracts, intended to create a revolving fund that would buy new land for irrigation as irrigated land was sold. In 1982, it was amended again to change the structures under which land could qualify for the program.

The Bureau of Reclamation operates more than 50 hydroelectric power plants in the West, producing 40 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year. These dams supply nearly all of the West's major population centers with power.