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Irrigation

One of the early difficulties with farming and development in Nebraska was associated with the semiarid climate. The possibilities of irrigation received almost immediate attention. Today, along the Platte River for example, where instream flows are estimated to be from twenty-five percent to as little as ten percent of its historical flows, questions arise as to how much more water can be utilized for development while maintaining viable wildlife habitat. A century ago the issues, though difficult, were much simpler in that the focus was on human need alone. Excerpts from speeches given at the State Irrigation Association meeting in Kearney, in February of 1894, provide insight into both those times, and how much has changed in so short a time:

E. R. Moses hyped the benefits of private investment in irrigation projects. He pointed out that many people see irrigation as a large business investment; too big for most to be able to afford. He contended that the benefits of wholesale adoption of irrigation by people would pay for the costs of such projects. He noted that in Scotts Bluff County, land that was worth only $2 per acre was now valued at from $40 to $50 an acre, primarily because of the widespread utilization of irrigation. He commented that the time had come for the West to end its periodic economic "ups and downs."

Judge J. E. Emery, of Lawrence, Kansas, said that the question before all of the people of the United States was, "What will we do for homes for our young men? The homesteads are all gone. There is no Kansas or Nebraska to go to. The only salvation is to irrigate and divide our lands into smaller farms." He drew a word picture of the important influence water could have on civilization by "lighting the world and turning the wheels of commerce, and that the arid lands of the West will have to be irrigated to catch and support the drift of population westward." The judge felt that experiment stations could do testing to determine what were the best methods of utilizing water and said that definite results could be attained. He cited California as an example: "All they have is sand and water and look at the fruits they raise." Then he called the Platte Valley an "immense canon filled with sand and water, nobody knows how deep," and that consequently there was a plentiful supply of water available.

(June 1997)

 

 

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