United States Bureau of Reclamation

Last updated
Bureau of Reclamation
USBR logo oct 2019.jpg
Agency overview
Headquarters Main Interior Building
Washington, D.C.
Employees5,425 [1]
Annual budget$1.17 billion [2]
Agency executives
Parent agency United States Department of the Interior
Website www.usbr.gov

The Bureau of Reclamation, and formerly the United States Reclamation Service, is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees water resource management, specifically as it applies to the oversight and operation of the diversion, delivery, and storage projects that it has built throughout the western United States for irrigation, water supply, and attendant hydroelectric power generation. Currently the Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water in the country, bringing water to more than 31 million people, and providing one in five Western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland, which produce 60% of the nation's vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts. The Bureau of Reclamation is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States. [3]


On June 17, 1902, in accordance with the Reclamation Act, Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock established the U.S. Reclamation Service within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The new Reclamation Service studied potential water development projects in each western state with federal lands—revenue from sale of federal lands was the initial source of the program's funding. Because Texas had no federal lands, it did not become a Reclamation state until 1906, when Congress passed a law including it in the provisions of the Reclamation Act.


Bureau of Reclamation regions Bureau of Reclamation regions.png
Bureau of Reclamation regions

From 1902 to 1907, Reclamation began about 30 projects in Western states. [4] Then, in 1907, the Secretary of the Interior separated the Reclamation Service from the USGS and created an independent bureau within the Department of the Interior. Frederick Haynes Newell was appointed the first director of the new bureau. Beginning with the third person to take over the direction of Reclamation in 1923, David W. Davis, the title was changed from Director to Commissioner. [5]

In the early years, many projects encountered problems: lands or soils included in projects were unsuitable for irrigation; land speculation sometimes resulted in poor settlement patterns; proposed repayment schedules could not be met by irrigators who had high land-preparation and facilities-construction costs; settlers were inexperienced in irrigation farming; waterlogging of irrigable lands required expensive drainage projects; and projects were built in areas which could only grow low-value crops. In 1923 the agency was renamed the "Bureau of Reclamation". [6] In 1924, however, in the face of increasing settler unrest and financial woes, the "Fact Finder's Report" spotlighted major problematic issues; the Fact Finders Act in late 1924 sought to resolve some of these problems.[ citation needed ]

In 1928 Congress authorized the Boulder Canyon (Hoover Dam) Project, and large appropriations began, for the first time, to flow to Reclamation from the general funds of the United States. The authorization came only after a hard-fought debate about the pros and cons of public power versus private power.[ clarification needed ] [7]

The heyday of Reclamation construction of water facilities occurred during the Depression and the 35 years after World War II. From 1941 to 1947, Civilian Public Service labor was used to carry on projects otherwise interrupted by the war effort. The last major authorization for construction projects occurred in the late 1960s, while a parallel evolution and development of the American environmental movement began to result in strong opposition to water development projects. Even the 1976 failure of Teton Dam as it filled for the first time did not diminish Reclamation's strong international reputation in water development circles. [8] However, this first and only failure of a major Reclamation Bureau dam led to subsequent strengthening of its dam-safety program to avoid similar problems. Even so, the failure of Teton Dam, the environmental movement, and the announcement of President Carter's "hit list" on water projects profoundly affected the direction of Reclamation's programs and activities. [9]

Reclamation operates about 180 projects in the 17 western states. The total Reclamation investment for completed project facilities in September 1992 was about $11 billion. Reclamation projects provide agricultural, household, and industrial water to about one‑third of the population of the American West. About 5% of the land area of the West is irrigated, and Reclamation provides water to about one-fifth of that area, some 9,120,000 acres (37,000 km2) in 1992. Reclamation is a major American generator of electricity. As of 2007, Reclamation had 58 power plants on‑line and generated 125,000 GJ of electricity.

From 1988 to 1994, Reclamation underwent major reorganization as construction on projects authorized in the 1960s and earlier drew to an end. Reclamation wrote that "The arid West essentially has been reclaimed. The major rivers have been harnessed and facilities are in place or are being completed to meet the most pressing current water demands and those of the immediate future". Emphasis in Reclamation programs shifted from construction to operation and maintenance of existing facilities. Reclamation's redefined official mission is to "manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public". In redirecting its programs and responsibilities, Reclamation substantially reduced its staff levels and budgets but remains a significant federal agency in the West.[ citation needed ]

Willard Bay State Park.jpg

On October 1, 2017 the Hoover Dam Police Department was closed and the National Park Service took over law enforcement duties for the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam Police Department existed for more than 80 years. [10]


Reclamation commissioners that have had a strong impact and molding of the Bureau have included Elwood Mead, Michael W. Straus, and Floyd Dominy, with the latter two being public-power boosters who ran the Bureau during its heyday. Mead guided the bureau during the development, planning, and construction of the Hoover Dam, the United States' first multiple-purpose dam. [11]

John W. Keys, the 16th Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation who served from July 2001 to April 2006, was killed two years after his retirement on May 30, 2008, when the airplane he was piloting crashed in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. [12]

On June 26, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Brenda Burman to serve as the Commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 16, 2017. Burman is the first woman to ever lead the Bureau of Reclamation. David Murillo was serving as the acting commissioner of the bureau. Burman resigned on January 20th after the inauguration of the Biden Administration.

The current Commissioner is Camille Calimlim Touton, the first Filipino American to head the agency. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 4, 2021. [13]

List of reclamation projects

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hoover Dam</span> Dam in Clark County, Nevada, and Mohave County, Arizona, US

Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. It was referred to as Hoover Dam after President Herbert Hoover in bills passed by Congress during its construction; it was named Boulder Dam by the Roosevelt administration. The Hoover Dam name was restored by Congress in 1947.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Newlands Reclamation Act</span> United States federal law

The Reclamation Act of 1902 is a United States federal law that funded irrigation projects for the arid lands of 20 states in the American West.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colorado River</span> Major river in the western United States and Mexico

The Colorado River is one of the principal rivers in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The 1,450-mile-long (2,330 km) river drains an expansive, arid watershed that encompasses parts of seven U.S. states and two Mexican states. The name Colorado derives from the Spanish language for "colored reddish" due to its heavy silt load. Starting in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado, it flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona–Nevada border, where it turns south toward the international border. After entering Mexico, the Colorado approaches the mostly dry Colorado River Delta at the tip of the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grand Coulee Dam</span> Dam in Grant and Okanogan counties, near Coulee Dam and Grand Coulee, Washington, US

Grand Coulee Dam is a concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington, built to produce hydroelectric power and provide irrigation water. Constructed between 1933 and 1942, Grand Coulee originally had two powerhouses. The third powerhouse ("Nat"), completed in 1974 to increase energy production, makes Grand Coulee the largest power station in the United States by nameplate-capacity at 6,809 MW.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Western Area Power Administration</span>

As one of the four power marketing administrations within the U.S. Department of Energy, the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA)'s role is to market wholesale hydropower generated at 57 hydroelectric federal dams operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, United States Army Corps of Engineers and the International Boundary and Water Commission. WAPA delivers this power through a more than 17,000-circuit-mile, high-voltage power transmission system to more than 700 preference power customers across the West. Those customers, in turn, provide retail electric service to more than 40 million consumers. WAPA is headquartered in the Denver, Colorado suburb of Lakewood, Colorado.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American Falls Dam</span> Dam in Idaho, U.S.

The American Falls Dam is a concrete gravity-type dam located near the town of American Falls, Idaho, on river mile 714.7 of the Snake River. The dam and reservoir are a part of the Minidoka Project on the Snake River Plain and are used primarily for flood control, irrigation, and recreation. When the original dam was built by the Bureau of Reclamation, the residents of American Falls were forced to relocate three-quarters of their town to make room for the reservoir. A second dam was completed in 1978 and the original structure was demolished. Although the dam itself is located in Power County, its reservoir also stretches northeastward into both Bingham County and Bannock County.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elwood Mead</span>

Elwood Mead was an American professor, government official, and engineer known for heading the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) from 1924 until his death in 1936. During his tenure, he oversaw some of the most complex projects the Bureau of Reclamation has undertaken. These included the Hoover, Grand Coulee and Owyhee dams.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Navajo Dam</span> Dam in San Juan and Rio Arriba Counties, New Mexico

Navajo Dam is a dam on the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River, in northwestern New Mexico in the United States. The 402-foot (123 m) high earthen dam is situated in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains about 44 miles (71 km) upstream and east of Farmington, New Mexico. It was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) in the 1960s to provide flood control, irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, and storage for droughts. A small hydroelectric power plant was added in the 1980s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jackson Lake Dam</span> Dam in Wyoming, in Grand Teton National Park

Jackson Lake Dam is a concrete and earth-fill dam in the western United States, at the outlet of Jackson Lake in northwestern Wyoming. The lake and dam are situated within Grand Teton National Park in Teton County. The Snake River emerges from the dam and flows about eight hundred miles (1,300 km) through Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to its mouth on the Columbia River in eastern Washington.

The Central Utah Project is a US federal water project that was authorized for construction under the Colorado River Storage Project Act of April 11, 1956, as a participating project. In general, the Central Utah Project develops a portion of Utah's share of the yield of the Colorado River, as set out in the Colorado River Compact of 1922.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Owyhee Dam</span> Dam in Malheur County, Oregon

Owyhee Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam on the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon near Adrian, Oregon, United States. Completed in 1932 during the Great Depression, the dam generates electricity and provides irrigation water for several irrigation districts in Oregon and neighboring Idaho. At the time of completion, it was the tallest dam of its type in the world. The dam is part of the Owyhee Dam Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fontenelle Dam</span> Dam on the Green River in Wyoming

Fontenelle Dam was built between 1961 and 1964 on the Green River in southwestern Wyoming. The 139-foot (42 m) high zoned earthfill dam impounds the 345,360-acre-foot (0.42600 km3) Fontenelle Reservoir. The dam and reservoir are the central features of the Seedskadee Project of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Fontenelle impoundment primarily as a storage reservoir for the Colorado River Storage Project. The dam suffered a significant failure in 1965, when the dam's right abutment developed a leak. Emergency releases from the dam flooded downstream properties, but repairs to the dam were successful. However, in 1983 the dam was rated "poor" under Safety Evaluation of Existing Dams (SEED) criteria, due to continuing seepage, leading to an emergency drawdown. A concrete diaphragm wall was built through the core of the dam to stop leakage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John L. Savage</span> American civil engineer

John Lucian Savage was an American civil engineer. Among the 60 major dams he supervised the designs for, he is best known for the Hoover Dam, Shasta Dam, Parker Dam and Grand Coulee Dam in the United States along with surveying for the future Three Gorges Dam in China. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of numerous awards including the John Fritz Medal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minidoka Project</span>

The Minidoka Project is a series of public works by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to control the flow of the Snake River in Wyoming and Idaho, supplying irrigation water to farmlands in Idaho. One of the oldest Bureau of Reclamation projects in the United States, the project involves a series of dams and canals intended to store, regulate and distribute the waters of the Snake, with electric power generation as a byproduct. The water irrigates more than a million acres (4,000 km²) of otherwise arid land, producing much of Idaho's potato crop. Other crops include alfalfa, fruit and sugar beets. The primary irrigation district lies between Ashton in eastern Idaho and Bliss in the southwestern corner of the state. Five main reservoirs collect water, distributing it through 1,600 miles (2,600 km) of canals and 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of lateral distribution ditches.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yuma Project</span> U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project

The Yuma Project is a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project built to irrigate over 68,000 acres (280 km2) of land in Yuma County, Arizona and parts of Imperial County, California. The project is designed to exploit year-round farming conditions and water from the Colorado River. It consists of the Laguna Diversion Dam, pumping plants, a power plant, a 53-mile (85 km) system of canals, 218 miles (351 km) of lateral canals, levees and drains. The project began in 1903 and the majority of the work was completed by 1915. It was the first dam and reclamation project on the Colorado River and workers had to overcome many natural and logistical obstacles to build and maintain it. The Laguna Diversion Dam was replaced by the Imperial Dam as the Project's water source between 1941 and 1948. Today, it serves 275 farms and over 94,000 people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gibson Dam</span> Dam in Lewis and Clark/Teton Counties, Montana

Gibson Dam is a concrete arch dam on the Sun River, a tributary of the Missouri River, about 60 miles (97 km) west of Great Falls, Montana in the United States. Located on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, the dam was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) between 1926 and 1929 as part of the Sun River Project to develop about 93,000 acres (38,000 ha) of irrigated land in the Sun River Valley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Avalon Dam</span> Dam in Eddy County, New Mexico

Avalon Dam is a small dam on the Pecos River about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Carlsbad, New Mexico, United States. The dam is a storage and regulating reservoir, and diverts water into the main canal of the Carlsbad Project, an irrigation scheme.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis R. Douglass</span>

Louis Rea "Doug" Douglass was an American civil engineer. He spent more than 20 years with the United States Bureau of Reclamation and was in charge of Hoover Dam and the surrounding park land for four years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">M. Camille Calimlim Touton</span> Biden administration official

M. Camille Calimlim Touton is a Filipino-American water policy advisor who serves as the commissioner of the United States Bureau of Reclamation in the Biden administration.


  1. "Bureau of Reclamation Quickfacts". under "TOPIC: Employees". U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 3 May 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  2. Budget Justifications and Performance Information, Fiscal Year 2013 (PDF). U.S. Department of the Interior. 2012. p. 11.
  3. "Bureau of Reclamation – About Us" . Retrieved 2016-02-16.
  4. Page, Arthur W. (December 1907). "The Real Conquest of the West: The Work of the United States REclamation Service". The World's Work: A History of Our Time . XV: 9691–9704. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  5. Bureau of Reclamation. "Reclamation History". Bureau of Reclamation. Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  6. The Bureau of Reclamation: A Very Brief History, Bureau of Reclamation
  7. Kleinsorge, Paul L. (1941). The Boulder Canyon Project: Historical and Economic Aspects (Stanford: Stanford University Press).
  8. "Teton Dam Failure" . Retrieved 2008-05-07.
  9. Paul E. Scheele Presidential Studies Quarterly Vol. 8, No. 4, Presidential Power and the Values and Processes of Democracy (Fall, 1978), pp. 348–364
  10. "Dam police department dissolved; park rangers now patrol facility". 13 December 2017.
  11. Sutton, Imre (1968). "Geographical Aspects of Construction Planning: Hoover Dam Revisited". Journal of the West. 7 (3): 301–344.
  12. Reclamation, Bureau of. "Bureau of Reclamation". www.usbr.gov. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  13. "AQUAFORNIA BREAKING NEWS: Camille Calimlim Touton nominated as Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner".

Further reading