The Columbia Basin project, Washington : concept and reality, lessons for public policy Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/5d86p256c

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  • A million acre tract of land within the "Big Bend" of the Columbia River in south-central Washington became the locale for an important public area planning experiment and geotechnic enterprise in the late 1930's and early 1940's. The Columbia Basin Project (CBP) of the Bureau of Reclamation was conceived to irrigate and populate the area. In 1939, Harlan H. Barrows, a geographer and consultant to the Bureau, devised an integrated regional pre-development study program, the Columbia Basin Joint Investigations (CBJI), which attempted to assess the physical, economic, and social impacts of the CBP on the Columbia Basin. Study teams were named and a major investigational effort (300 persons representing 40 agencies, Federal, state, local, and private) was carried out from 1939 to 1942. World War II, however, slowed the CBJI, delayed the Project's settlement for about a decade, and unleashed forces that brought sweeping changes in American agriculture. Irrigation began via the main canal system in 1952. This notable planning effort, given the normal difficulties with the involvement of so many agencies and people and the advent of World War II, produced many beneficial results. The very poor follow-up program, however, has nullified many of those benefits and has lead to several negative, even deplorable, aspects of actual Project development. The standards of geotechnics ("making the earth more habita.ble") were utilized to appraise the physical, economic, and social habitabilities of the Project area. The physical habitability of the Project area is under duress. Massive drainage problems developed early and are important because remedial costs greatly exceed estimates and because the three irrigation districts in agreeing to a higher construction obligation were able to gain the right to unrestricted leasing and renting of Project lands. This has led to serious subsidy problems. The number of settlement opportunities, a measure of economic habitability, provided at mid-point in acreage development (500, 000 acres) is 800 or one-tenth of the number planned. Types of farming and farm sizes are significantly different than planned for the Project. Several facets of social habitability were significantly improved, among them recreation, transportation, and public facilities. The Project is a dismal failure in the Bureau's attempt to provide the base for population expansion. Rural and urban growth reached about onefourth the number planned for the area. All Project towns, except Othello, lost population in the decade 1960 to 1970. The attempt by the Bureau of Reclamation to integrate the Columbia Basin Project into the land, economy, and community of the Columbia Basin presents a fascinating case for continuing study and evaluation.
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