Theodore Roosevelt’s initial concern for the staggering dryness of the Western landscape was fostered by his Badlands experience. Water is naturally essential for a rancher, a meadowlark, or a tree. President Roosevelt’s first message to congress included his persistent emphasis on a nation’s co-dependence with the natural world. His passion never faltered.
“On June 17, 1902, the Reclamation Act was passed. It set aside the proceeds of the disposal of public lands for the purpose of reclaiming the waste areas of the arid West by irrigating lands otherwise worthless, and thus creating new homes upon the land. The money so appropriated was to be repaid to the government by the settlers, and to be used again as a revolving fund continuously available for the work. The impatience of the Western people to see immediate results from the Reclamation Act was so great that red tape was disregarded, and the work was pushed forward at a rate previously unknown in government affairs. Later, as in almost all such cases, there followed the criticisms of alleged illegality and haste which are so easy to make after results have been accomplished and the need for the measures, without which nothing could have been done, has gone by. These criticisms were in character precisely the same as that made about the acquisition of Panama, the settlement of the anthracite coal strike, the suits against the trusts, the stopping of the panic of 1907 … and, in short, about almost of the best work done during my administration. When, in the spring of 1911 I visited Roosevelt Dam in Arizona, and opened the reservoir, I said to the engineers present that in the name of all good citizens, I thanked them for their admirable work, as efficient as it was honest, and conducted according to the highest of standards of public service. Irrigation of the Great Plains and Rockies in importance comes second only to the Homestead Act, and in those particular states is more important than the Homestead Act.”
Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.